[kids-lib] story time etiquette input needed

anne-louise sterry anne-louise at anne-louise.com
Thu Oct 29 11:41:10 PDT 2009

Wow this question is so important and Heather I just love what you wrote.
As a performer it can be tricky - who is expected to do take care of kids
who are perhaps trying to get attention? The librarian, the performer..
because as we all know sometimes the parents are not sure! Heather with your
permission I am going to use your words and also share them with the person
-be it librarian/teacher etc... who is making the introductions(it is
actually better if the performer does not have to do it) 
This is an issue in schools, family events, etc etc and I believe that
children follow the model of the adults who themselves need role models!!

All the best to you guys,
Anne-Louise Sterry
Anne-Louise Sterry
anne-louise at anne-louise.com
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Author of Aunt Lena's Cucina

-----Original Message-----
From: kids-lib-bounces at listsmart.osl.state.or.us
[mailto:kids-lib-bounces at listsmart.osl.state.or.us] On Behalf Of heather
Sent: Thursday, October 29, 2009 9:12 AM
To: Patrick Goodman; kids-lib
Subject: Re: [kids-lib] story time etiquette input needed

This is certainly a universal problem that we all deal with.  Isn't it
interesting that we don't have to give near as much attention to the
behavior of the children?  

Over the years I've discovered several techniques to remind parents
about what is expected of them for a successful story time.   Forgive me
if this is overly long, but I hope it will be helpful.

1.  I believe it is crucial that the location be selected carefully.  I
realize we don't always have a separate room, but you've got to be set up
with a wall to your back, no windows, no shelves.  If we compromise on this,
and place ourselves where people can walk behind us, shelve around us, etc.,
we're sending the message that storytime is not important and that we just
plop it wherever we can.  We need to present it as a special world that
requires attention.

2.  Before storytime begins I ask for the parent's help with approximately
these words:  "I need your help.  If your child needs to get up and move a
bit while I'm reading stories, that's fine, I certainly understand all about
toddlers/preschoolers.  But please keep them close to you in your space.  At
the end of story time I'll be inviting them to come into my space to hug
Winston (my puppet sheep dog), look at the books, play with the toys I
brought, dance to the music, and so on.  But please don't let them come into
my space until I invite them at the end of story time so I can continue the
stories and everyone can see."  By giving this reminder every week I have
found that the parents truly honor my request, and understand why I make it.
If a parent comes in late, and didn't hear that announcement, and their
child is trying to take my book or puppet, then I'll just gently say, "I
need help from this child's parent."  Then I turn to the child and say, "You
can come up at the end of storytime and play with the toys, but now it's
time to be with your parent and listen to the stories." It just takes one
gentle reminder like that, and everyone else will honor it. 

3.  When parents are talking, and it is distracting, I might lower my voice
a bit, or pause briefly, so that their voices stand out, which usually
catches their attention.  I might try to catch their eye.  If it is
perpetual, I might request, "Could I ask for your help?  Would you please
hold off on your personal conversations until the end of storytime?  Thanks
so much." Usually they are apologetic and help me out.  I've had a few over
the years who were unhappy with me and left.  

4. The BEST solution is to make sure that story time includes plenty of
interactions so that their personal conversations are "interrupted" with the
fun of storytime--songs, rhymes, requests for audience participation in the
story (I use that a lot!), wiggles, tickles, lap bounces, etc.
Since we are role modeling for them about how to make storytime fun and
important, I make sure I include them throughout storytime, asking a few
questions, inviting their participation, including a tickle, recommending an
author, providing an early literacy tip, etc.  Each of these are very brief,
but make them feel part of what is going on, rather than on the sidelines.

I'm attaching the FAQ that we print every week on the back of the early
literacy rhyme sheet we distribute to the parents.  It gives answers to the
parents about what is needed for a successful storytime, and it has
definitely helped.  Most (notice I didn't say all) of the parents are
wonderful about adhering to our requests.  They appreciate the enthusiasm
and planning that goes into storytime, and honor it by being respectful.  I
often have 80-100 in Toddlin' Tales for ages 18-36 months, which could be a
disaster, but is usually great. 

I do think it's our job to set the parameters and establish control.  I try
to use the words "your help," a lot so that they feel empowered.
But, there are parents who use any opportunity to socialize with other
parents, or whose parenting style is to remain "hands off," in order to
encourage so-called independence. (Can you tell that's a personal pet peeve
of mine?)  Just this week I finally had to turn to the father who was
slouched against the wall, reading a magazine, ignoring his rambunctious
2-year-old daughter who was running back and forth, doing all that she could
to attract attention during storytime, and say, "Excuse me, but I need your
help."  Just a few days before the same parent was oblivious when the same
little girl ran out of the library and was found outside climbing on the
sculpture while he remained in the building.  Sigh....

I look forward to hearing from others what they have found helpful at

-----Original Message-----
From: kids-lib-bounces at listsmart.osl.state.or.us
[mailto:kids-lib-bounces at listsmart.osl.state.or.us] On Behalf Of Patrick
Sent: Wednesday, October 28, 2009 9:49 AM
To: kids-lib
Subject: [kids-lib] story time etiquette input needed

Hello everyone,

   How many of you have the problem of parents disrupting and distracting
both the children and storyteller during story time? If you're like me, your
parents are the primary problem with behavior.
But how do you reprimand them for their actions in a way that will not leave
them angry and with a vow on their lips to never return to your storytime
and library again?

   Although this is definitely not the final answer, I'm in the beginning
stages of creating a pamphlet concerning proper story time etiquette for
parents. I'd like any and all feedback of what are common parental problems
and how they can be alleviated. Here are a few of the major concerns that I
will be addressing:

1. Leaving children by themselves.
2. Walking/talking behind the storyteller. (disclaimer: not all libraries
are built the same, so changing areas is sometimes not an
3. Talking during storytime, then shushing children when they begin to
4. Continually leaving and returning to the storytime area.
5. Restricting a child's movement.
6. Allowing their children to throw serious temper tantrums, but not
removing them from the area. (this is actually the easiest problem to
address, but I'm always amazed that I have to politely ask parents to leave
until their child has settled down each and every time) 7. Showing up
[habitually] late.
8. Following their children around when they wander from the story time area
(but still in view).
9. Participating.
10. Forgetting their children need help and encouragement during craft time
so that they can gossip away with one another.

   Again, please feel free to list anything you think I'm overlooking,
complete with what you'd like the parents to do. Also, if you'd like to
share any horror stories from your story time, please feel free.
Just make sure they're humorous and enjoyable, 'cause I don't think anyone's
interested in a rant... unless it's a really good rant.

   When I'm finished with the pamphlet, I'll post it up here (in pdf
form) so anyone interested can make copies for their own library. And thank
you everyone who responded to my queries on educational videos.
I'm about halfway through my purchasing, and really looking forward to it's

Kind regards,

Patrick L. Goodman
Youth Services Coordinator
Jefferson Co. Library District
241 SE 7th St.
Madras, OR 97741
(ph) 541.475.3351
(f) 541.475.7434
patrick at jcld.org
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