Monday, October 28, 2013

In the Story Room: Fighting Story Time Burnout

No matter how much you love story time, you are bound to get burned out now and then. Some libraries have the luxury of taking breaks from story time, or offering seasonal sessions, and these are great opportunities for those who can take them. Unfortunately, though, for those of us whose systems require year-round story time offerings, or for solo librarians who are the only story time providers for their libraries, it might not be that easy to simply take a break. Below are five other ways to break out of a story time rut.
  • Visit another branch, or another library, and look for books you’ve never used before.
    For me, the greatest source of new story time books was always the main branch of my library system. My branch had a great collection, but the main library’s collection is both larger and deeper. Sometimes just browsing the shelves will spark a series of new ideas for themes or songs. Sometimes just finding one new book on an old familiar theme is enough to rejuvenate the entire concept and renew your excitement. Repetition is wonderful for kids, but if you’re sick of the books you’re reading, your audience will pick up on that in a heartbeat. Better to find some new favorites than to make yourself nuts with your 400th reading of Bark, George.
  • Revamp your songs and rhymes library.
    There was a period of time where I sang The Wheels on the Bus three times in a row every Tuesday morning and twice more on Friday morning. I sang it because the kids loved it and the nannies responded to it, and I could count on at least five minutes of uninterrupted participation if I sang every verse I could think of. After a while, just the thought of turning my hands around and singing those opening lines was enough to make me want to stay home in bed. It was time to branch out. Thankfully, there are lots of resources for finding songs and rhymes for story time that will excite the kids without making you pull your hair out. Some of my favorites are:
    Another great approach that has worked for me is writing my own piggyback songs based on familiar tunes the kids know and love. Sometimes just a new set of lyrics is enough to make an old favorite bearable once again.
  • Change the structure of your story time.
    I like structure when I’m planning story time, and I think it helps the kids to have a predictable pattern they can anticipate. Unfortunately, though, a strict story time structure can sometimes become more of a burden than a blessing. For example, during the 2012-2013 school year, I introduced a letter of the day at every story time. It was a great way to add variety to story time without necessarily having to read more books, and it provided a nice opportunity to work in some of the flannel boards and fingerplays I had learned but not yet shared with kids. After twice through the alphabet, however, I began to dread the letter of the day. My audiences, too, had begun to fidget and squirm during this portion of story time. They’d seen it all. It was old news. I sat down with an outline of a story time and made some changes. I added an additional book, threw in a couple more songs, and added a magic envelope activity. Suddenly, what had seemed stale had a new lease on life and story time was once again a fun time for everyone.
  • Ask colleagues for their favorites, and if possible, observe colleagues performing story times.
    Children’s librarians are such creative and giving people. If you ask them for new story time ideas, they will provide more material than you can ever possibly use - and they’ll have brand-new approaches to old favorites that you never imagined in your life. If you’re the only children’s staff person at your own branch, try getting in touch with other branches, by phone or by email, or at monthly meetings. If your system is small, or you’ve tapped out its resources, or you’re just shy, there are also great online communities, such as the Flannel Friday Facebook page, where you can ask questions and receive instant advice. Sometimes just seeing how someone else performs a song or acts out a story can change your whole perspective and get you excited about trying something familiar in a new way.
Performing story time is a fun job that we are lucky to have, and you don’t want to let yourself get so burned out that you stop enjoying it. When you find yourself in a rut, take the extra time to analyze what is causing you to grow weary of story time and give yourself permission to make the changes necessary to restore your sanity. Your story time audiences - and you - will be happier for it!
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