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Programs – Preschool

Why We Do What We Do

Children’s programming is an integral part of well-rounded service in any public library.  For the librarians point of view it enriches the experience of children who are already library users; it draws new users: and it gives the librarians who work with children a window into the interests of their clientele.  From the parent’s point of view, programming provides an interesting and fun way to connect their children with books and reading.  The kids just think it’s fun.

Yet underneath all this fun some very serious things are happening.  Children’s brain are being stimulated and developing.  Children are learning early literacy skills and parents are being taught how to be their child’s first teacher.books with children

The years from birth through age 5 are critical time for children’s development and learning.  Early childhood educators understand that at home and in early childhood education settings, young children learn important skills that can provide them with the cornerstones needed for the development of later academic skills.  Research confirms that patterns of learning in preschool area closely linked to later achievement: children who develop more skills in preschool years perform better in primary grades.

The development of early skills appears to be particularly important in the area of literacy.  It is estimated that more than a third of all American fourth graders (and en even higher percentage of our at-risk students) read so poorly that they cannot complete their schoolwork successfully.  Providing young children with the critical precursor skills to reading can offer a path to improving overall achievement.

Early literacy skills have a clear and consistently strong relationship with later conventional literacy skills, such as decoding, oral reading, fluency, reading comprehension, writing and spelling.  Even before children start school, they can become aware of systematic patterns of sound in spoken language, manipulating sounds in words, recognizing words and break them apart into smaller units, learn the relationship between sounds and letters, and build their oral language and vocabulary skills.  These are all skills that the National Early Literacy Panel found to be be precursors to children’s later growth in the ability to decode and comprehend text, to write, and to spell.

Taken from
Early Beginnings: Early Literacy Knowledge and Instruction
a publication of National Institute for Literacy

How to Do it Well

Children who come to preschool storytime are, for the most part 4 and 5 years old.  However, you will want to take into consideration your community and audience when determining the age for attendance at storytime.

If you find that you do not have large enough attendance to justify having a separate toddler storytime, you may decide to have a combined storytime including 2 through 5 years-olds.  The developmental range is huge between the 2s and 5s, but with some adjustments in your plan you can create a storytime with something for everyone.

Some libraries are very strict, letting only children within the stated age range attend.  There will be always be the parent of a 4 year old who wants to being the baby sister or brother to storytime, too.  Is it worth the ill will of the parent to be unyielding in enforcing the age range?

Another consideration is whether or not to require the parents of 4 and 5 years old to attend storytime, or let the parent choose to attend or not attend with their child.  It is desirable for the parent to attend so you can model for them the way to read aloud to and interact with their children at home and so they can have positive interaction with their children in storytime. Make sure that there is a parent in attendance for the 2 and 3 years old.

How Many Should I Have?

Some systems have storytimes every week of the year.  Others systems plan storytimes during the spring, summer, fall and winter seasons, with sessions of 4 to 8 weeks.  Parents love the idea of having storytimes all the time, but you will find that you need a break to keep from burning out or getting stale.  Remember to count attendees for your statistics.  Count everyone who attends, even the moms and babies.

When Should I Have Them?

Preschool programs are most often held in the morning when the children are still fresh.  Early afternoons are good for older groups that might attend preschool in the morning, but remember that many young children take afternoon naps.


Some library systems offer crafts at each program; some offer special craft programs at certain times throughout the year.  However, crafts and not the books and the overall experience can quickly become the focus for the parents.  An alternative to having crafts at storytime is to give them to the children to complete at home.  If you decide to offer a craft, the craft should be age appropriate and related to the theme of that day’s storytime.

Storytime Location

If you have a meeting room, prepare the room to be child friendly by using bulletin boards and storytime props.  Display books on the storytime theme to be available for check out after storytime is over.

If there is not meeting room, set up an area in the library that will be used regularly for storytime.  A storytime carpet can be purchased to define the area.

Keep your story time materials in a special bag or suitcase until storytime begins.  Then, after everyone is seated, pull your materials out of the bag while talking to the group about the theme.

The best seating arrangement is having the children (and parents, if they are there) sit in a semi-circle on the floor around the storytime presenter.  The presenter should sit in a low chair so the books read will be slightly above the heads of the children.  Have a small table, chair or book cart near the storyteller to set props and books on.

Try to get parents as well as children to sit on the floor.  The parent should be expected to participate and they are more likely to of they are sitting with their children.

The storytime area should be in a place where there are as few distractions as possible for the attendees.

Before Storytime

Advertise the storytime through the use of flyers, posters, and the local newspapers.
Also post the the information on the library website, McDonald’s community calendar, local public access channels, library Facebook, twitter and send out email blast to people who attended library programs. Try to make time to visit briefly with each child before or after storytime.  Note the color of clothing they are wearing, a special stuffed animal or object they brought with them.

Whether the storytime is held in a meeting room, or an open area of the library, use the same signal each week to let the children know that it is time to begin.  If you ring a bell as you walk through the children’s area, they will follow you as if you are the Pied Piper.  If you use a puppet, have a special one that always announces the storytime.  When the children see the puppet they will begin to gather.  Some other ideas to try are a bell, whistle, hat, apron or song.

Use name tags for the children and the parent.  As the parents to help fill out the name tag for their child or use the time to visit briefly with each child as you fill out the name tag. Name tags that coordinate with the theme of your storytime can be commercially made or you can make your own using clip art or Ellison Die.

Storytime Outline

The ideal length of Preschool Storytime is about 30-45 minutes,  Even if parents decide to let their 4 or 5 years old child attend storytime alone, they should be asked to stay in the library, preferably the children’s area.  If parents are not present, other library personnel need to be in attendance to find the parent of the child who wants to leave storytime early or take a child to the restroom.  If you offer crafts as a part of your program, parent attendance is always helpful.

A program outline, similar to a teacher’s lesson plan, enables you to see the overall organizations of your program and to plan the most effective arrangements of activities.  Below is a typical program outline.  If you decide to use a different format for your program, create a similar outline reflecting your chosen sequence of activities.

You can also make notes about questions you want to ask or pertinent comments you want to remember to make.  Once everything is laid out on the outline, it is easy to see what books, and props you will need to gather before you practice and present your program.

the number of books you read and activities you do will depend on the length of all of them and the mood of your group.  You may play to use 3 to 4 books and 3 to 4 activities only to find out that your group is too restless to do everything you planned.  Cut your losses while everyone is still having fun and shorten the storytime session.

These can also help you plan programs in the future and share programs with others.

If you wish to extend the storytime experience consider highlighting something from your audiovisual collection.  Show a the first part of PBS Reading Rainbow. Each show brings with a brief introduction followed by a book read aloud.  Reading Rainbow are closed caption and grant public performance rights.  Past Reading Rainbow shows may be purchased at If you are offering a craft time – while the children are watching the short movie this would be a wonderful time to pull out the craft supplies. If you want to provide the caregiver with handout to take home.  There are several available at PBS Reading Rockets under “Topics A-Z” articles are available in English, Spanish and several other languages.

  • Opening/Greeting Activity – use the same opening at each session
  • Theme Discussion – Today we will meet some…

This would be an excellent time to discuss the early literacy skill that will be highlighted in the program.

  • Book Sharing – Read a picture book with large,and clear enough to be seen from a distance
  • Activity – fingerplay, puppet, song or story with props
  • Activity – any of the above or movement activity
  • Book Sharing – read a medium length book
  • Model the early literacy skill and point out what was done.

  • Activity – Movement activity using large muscles
  • Book sharing – read a short length book
  • Activity
  • Craft or other fine motor activity if doing a craft make it a theme based reminder of the storytime experience
  • Before closing encourage caregivers to reinforce the highlighted early literacy skill by ….

  • Closing – use the same closing activity at each session.

See also: Planning Storytime Checklist 

During Storytime

Keep all interactions positive.  Try to remember to tell the children what to do rather than what not to do.  Say – “I like it when you walk” rather then “don’t run”.

Put on your game face and leave your inhibitions at the door during storytime.  You must do all the activities yourself to show the children and the caregivers what they are supposed to do.

Encourage the children to participate, but do not force them.  Do not embarrass them by insisting or waiting until they do.  Keep on going!

Make sure the books you read and the activities you do are appropriate for the age group.

Remember to tell the author and illustrator – parents might want to check out the book or find other books by the same author.

Thank the children and caregiver for coming and invite them back.

Points to Ponder

Children this age are beginning to speak in sentences.  They also want to be helpful by or do things.  To encourage them to develop their language skills – including them in a story or activity.  Have them repeat a phrase in the book. Another way to include them in the story is by reading a cumulative tale such as The Pancake Boy: An old Norwegian Folk Tale illustrated by Lorinda Bryan Cauley and have the children identify the characters as the keep appearing in the story.  If you are using a book that allows the children to predict what will happen next such as Jump Frog Jump by Robert Kalan – ask who will try to catch the frog next.  Note if they need a hint with your finger circle the animal in the picture?Once the word gets out that the library is having regular preschool storytime, you may fund that childcare centers are interested in bringing the children to storytime.  Most libraries have limited meeting space which can be stretched to the limit with parents and children who are not in childcare.  Having a very large group for storytime will make the experience feel less personal in intimate. Therefore, it is generally recommended that you have childcare centers schedule a special visit for their own group.

Storytimes, like life, cam be unpredictable and you have to roll with the punches.  If you do find you do have a combine the toddlers and the preschools into one storytime, here are things to think about.

Depending on the maturity of the group, you may need to add some more activities to your storytime.

Try to have books and activities that will appeal to both the younger and older age groups.

Start with the longer books and activities, as you would anyway, and have something very simple at the end.  If you find that your are consistently having more children in one age range than the other, you will know to plan primarily with that age range in mind.

This above article is based on

Children’s and Youth Services Staff Handbook et al Elaine M. McCraken published by Georgia Public Library Service in 2002.  Used with permission

Early Literacy Storytimes @ your library: Partnering with Caregivers for Success by Saroj Nadkarni Ghoting and Pamela Martin-Di’az



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