by Melissa Jaramillo and Julie Snyder
Most local library branches offer a children's story hour. These may range from the elaborate -- complete with puppeteers, crafting and snacks to the simple reader's choice of the week. Both options, and everything in between are equally valuable. The primary focus is to offer the children a chance to gather together and become exposed to the lifelong gift of reading. Through literary works we may travel through time, meet extraordinary characters, and stretch our imaginations!
If your library does not offer this option please don't despair. These are actually fairly simple to begin and you will find that most libraries will meet your request with an enthusiastic response. If possible, volunteer to organize the activity. Later you can recruit other parents and together create a rotating list of helpers. Here are some ideas that you may find useful as you begin:
Cover the basics: Pick a day of the week and a time that appears to be convenient. We have found that the most successful story times appear to begin at 10 - 10:30 am (before the kids are horribly hungry for lunch or ready for nap!) Put up fliers on the entrance of the library, at the book checkout, and on the bookcases of the children's section. You can also request a notice in your newspaper community calendar. Most offer public notices for free.
Start Simple!: Pick a theme for each week and find one or two short stories that fit. Be certain to practice reading through ahead of time. Feel free to embellish with character voices, fluctuations in tone, and literary pauses. Ask questions throughout to hold your audience's attention. A fun idea is to decorate a story reader's hat! Don't choose stories that are too long as you will lose your audience. Chapter books can be used, but bear in mind that kids may miss out if they are unable to attend weekly.
Talk about it: Take time out to get feedback from both kids and parents! Did they enjoy this week's choice? What lessons/challenges (if any) did the characters face? What was their favorite part?
Offer Follow Up Activities/Books: This is optional and can be done either at the library with donated supplies or simply shared with parents and kids at the conclusion. Have your librarian pull together some related books (preferably ahead of time on display on a table) and maybe suggest an activity to go along with this week's theme. Encourage parents to offer their own ideas as well and share with the group!
If your group becomes large you may find that you are able to split up into two groups -- with ages 3 and under in one group and 4 and above in another. Expect older kids from time to time (home schoolers and during public school breaks). You may have to adapt your program after seeing the makeup of your regular audience.
This may all appear daunting as you begin but you'll soon be surprised by the enthusiasm and encouragement! Many parents are eager to expose their children to the joys of reading, to meet other children, and simply to see other adults themselves! Librarians are almost always happy to have the extra traffic and will do what they can to help out -- sometimes even taking over the work themselves! Reading is indeed the gift of a lifetime!
Julie Snyder is a mom of six, interested in kids, pregnancy, birth, people and lives in the outlying Seattle area. Melissa Jaramillo is mom to many. She's passionate about building, encouraging, and strengthening families on this adventure known as parenthood!
Copyright © Melissa Jaramillo and Julie Snyder. Permission to republish granted to Pregnancy.org, LLC.