Thursday, August 28, 2014

5 Hints for Planning Themed Story Times

Themes are a great way to organize a story time, keep variety in your repertoire, and draw in audiences. I don’t believe every story time should have a theme, but sometimes it’s fun to bring together like elements in one session. Here are some hints for maintaining high quality in a themed story time.
  • Choose a theme based on available materials.
    Planning a themed story time is similar to selecting a research topic. Before you begin, you’ll want to know if there are enough quality materials related to your selected theme. You never want to choose something to share in story time based only on the fact that it fits your theme. If you wouldn’t ordinarily read that book, sing that song, or chant that rhyme in a regular story time, then you shouldn’t do so simply to fill a themed session. 
  • Keep it general.
    To avoid painting yourself into a corner and forcing yourself to use poorly written materials, it’s best to stick with general themes. If you can’t find enough books about trucks, try vehicles with wheels. If you’re still not satisfied with what’s available, consider focusing on all modes of transportation. Every book fits some theme if you think broadly enough, and the more general the theme, the better the selection of quality books and activities. 
  • Don’t become a slave to the theme.
    Even after you’ve chosen a theme and found a great set of materials to use, there is still no reason that every single activity in the story time has to adhere to the theme. I’ve done story times where the books share a common thread, but the fingerplays, action rhymes and songs are unrelated. I’ve also done story times where the first half of story time is themed and the second half is a collection of unrelated items. Sometimes you will have a complete roster of great activities on the same topic, but it’s okay if that’s not the norm. 
  • It’s okay to keep the theme to yourself.
    In my experience, themes are most useful to the story time presenter and not as important to the children. I went through a phase where all my story times in a given week were on the same theme. This was so that I could systematically request books from other branches all at once, get everything out of them that I could and then send them back. On rare occasions, I told my audiences what a story time session was going to focus on, but as a general rule, I didn’t bother. Sometimes kids would notice a connection and point it out, but otherwise, they were just interested in hearing what I had to share, regardless of the subject. The themes were for me, and sometimes only discernible by me. 
  • Themes are not for everyone.
    My core belief about story time has always been that every presenter should do what works best for him or her. For some people, themed story times provide needed boundaries and structure; for others, they may be too restrictive. There is nothing inherently wrong with story times centered on themes, just as there is nothing wrong with selecting a variety of unrelated materials and sharing them in a logical order. The important thing is to choose well-written books, kid-friendly songs, and rhymes with strong rhythm and wise word choice.
You can browse my themed story times here.

Do you use themes at story time? Why or why not? What are some of your favorites? Please share in comments!
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