Preschool is my least well attended program, largely due to the fact that our community is extremely affluent and the majority of preschool age children here attend a formal program. On any given week, I have anywhere between 2 and 10 children. This week, one of my regulars, who is usually super ready to participate, well…wasn’t. When her mom asked her if she was going to join in during our opening song, she said, “No, mom, I’m broken.” And so it goes.
Kids feed off the energy of the other kids in their group as well as their parent’s. That’s why caregiver enthusiasm can make or break a program and it’s also why having smaller storytime numbers can contribute to kids clamming up and refusing to participate. This can happen to ALL kids, even those that we see on a regular basis.
Sustaining the right amount of energy during a smaller storytime is a one of the biggest challenges that I face on a regular basis. Too much energy and the kiddos break away from the tiny hive mind and start running all over the place. Too little energy and a 30 minute storytime winds up feeling like an hour of pulling teeth. Here are some things that work for me in striking the balance so that I can have a successful program.
- Get to know the kids by name. You should try to do this with storytime regulars no matter what, but it becomes particularly useful when there is a smaller group than is desirable because it allows you to ask questions and engages kids one on one. They’re much more likely to open up to you if they know your name and you know theirs. Kids don’t enjoy being called “hey, you” any more than we do.
- Be as energetic with 5 kids as you would with 50. Enthusiasm is catching. So is the opposite. It’s extremely tempting to dial things down when you’re not trying to hold the attention of a massive group. While there is something to be said for a more informal, one on one experience in storytime when the situation allows, it’s not my preferred tactic. While storytime isn’t a performance, I think the librarian or staff member has a certain responsibility to provide top notch programming and, in storytime, that usually includes getting as crazy excited about books, singing, and movement as you possibly can. This also sets a precedent for caregivers. We can’t expect them to show up and stay engaged if we aren’t willing to do it ourselves.
- Watch your pace. Don’t feel like you need to rush through the program just because the room isn’t filled to capacity. Try to resist the urge to do that. Take the time to tell a great story. Have conversations about the book that are harder to do when you’re dealing with a lot of kids shouting over each other. Repeat movement activities and songs just like you normally would even if the kids have the damn thing down the first time.
- Go with the flow and keep the flow going. This is the golden rule of any program. Sluggish caregivers? Keep going. Reluctant kids? Keep going. Smile. Laugh. Be silly. Trust your professional judgment and change gears when you need to. Shorten a story or expand on it as needed. Give good tips to caregivers even when it seems like they’re dragging their feet. They’ll thank you later. I promise.