Baby Storytime!

Many moons ago we got a patron comment that the person loved our storytimes for their older kids, but their younger child was too little for “flashcards and long stories.” (I like to sometimes start older kid storytime sessions with color/shape/animal flashcards to have the kids make sounds, guess shapes, etc.) This was a real turning moment for me because I connected deeply with it.

Our storytimes were all mixed up, we tried to jam both age sessions (0-2 and then 3-5) on the same day, it never worked.  I knew we had a gap, I knew this patron had hit on something true.  And I knew we could be doing MORE.

I wanted something for the babies, you see.

I was reading a lot of blogs from my favorite, most inspirational librarians about their baby programs and it gave me some good foundation and the confidence to make a program that worked for my library and my staff.

So, you should start there!

Baby Storytime by Storytime Katie

Baby Storytime by Reading with Red

Baby Storytime from Mel’s Desk

Amazing round-up of Baby Storytime resources from Jbrary

Add into that one important revelation from a casual conversation with my dearest Cory – there was no reason to have these storytimes on the same day.  So, we split Baby Time away from Toddler Time and started working on our messaging to parents – this is a different program, and it’s JUST for babies!  Join us, won’t you? The different days really helped and if you can manage that as your library, it’s my first tip.


  • We have Baby Time once a week.
  • It’s open to ages 0-24 months, but it often skews to the younger .
  • We do NOT keep out older siblings (how could you?) but we do not gear the program to them.  We sometimes set out some toys or books off to the side for the older kids but we don’t mind trying to get them involved with the actual program (as you’ll see).
  • We don’t have registration for any of our storytimes, this is a drop-in.  We have it immediately after our morning Baby Dance program to get the crowd already in the library.
  • We spend 15-20 minutes doing rhymes and songs.
  • We usually get through about 7-10 rhymes and bounces per session.
  • We repeat rhyme/bounce twice.
  • Sometimes we use scarves or shakers, but we keep the program mostly prop free to concentrate on the bouncing, singing, and caregiver/baby interaction.
  • Once we’ve completed out set of rhymes and bounces, we put out board books and toys and just let the caregivers and babies play.
  • A staff member sticks around – at least at the beginning – to offer some tips about interacting with books and learning through play.
  • But we also just like to give the caregivers and  babies time to socialize and play without us there, so we don’t feel obliged to be there talking and leading the whole time.


Here’s how we set the room up


Parents like the chairs and it’s good for lap bouncing!



Staff sits up front right next to our magnetic flannelboard/whiteboard. We use it in a lot of ways and it helps focus the class.  Here’s a shot of the main use during session:


Most of our rhymes are written out (by my awesome co-worker Chelsie who has great handwriting, lucky!) or printed out via Word on multiple sheets to create a poster.  We then use old posters to back them and display them through the session to give caregivers the words to follow along.  This is absolutely critical, I think. If you want caregiver participation, you have to give them the words.  This is a good visual.  We’re definitely looking at projecting the words using Powerpoint and one of our projectos. [and I’d LOVE to move to having some rhymes in Chinese (that’s our largest language outside of English) included when we do that too.] Here’s some more samples:


People really love The Grand Old Duke of York and it’s a ton of fun!


We can fit more than one rhyme per poster.

Some other favorite and frequently used bounces & rhymes:

Mother, Father, Uncle John

Let’s Go Riding In An Elevator

Where Oh Where Are Baby’s Fingers?

Here We Go Up, Up, Up

We also have a specific, permanent Baby Time cart, which always helps.


Here’s where we keep the books, the toys, the odds and ends. Let’s take a closer look!


Save up and get some stackable cups!!  I spent $12 for four sets at Tuesday Morning and they are such a hit.  The babies love to stack them, clap them together, try to fit them inside of each other.  Caregivers easily see how they encourage dialogue and word-building.  Love these cups.


Interactive blocks from Ross.  I got two sets of these, total of six, and they have activities and textures on every side and stack according to shapes.  These are a huge win because they are EASILY CLEANABLE (not true for all blocks) a little bit bigger so easier to hold for little hands and very interactive in a variety of ways.

Here they are together.  And you know one of the OTHER favorite toys?  The bins!  They are all from the Dollar Tree and babies LOVE to experiment with taking things in and out and playing with the storage bins themselves!



Sensory balls!  I bought sets at Costco and Target (yes Target!) and they are beloved. They weren’t cheap (nor were they TOO expensive) but we get a ton of use out of them.  These balls are another popular favorites.  They encourage interaction and play and caregivers start talking about them almost immediately.  Like the blocks, they are easy to clean (yay) and really encourage exploration for the babies.

BOOKS! We have a special set of board books JUST for Baby Time.  We try to have a mix, many are culled from donations or bought from the Dollar Tree. I like simple books with big pictures and easy vocabulary, as they fit the Baby Time crowd better than longer board book stories. I know many places have sets of board books and do choral readings.  I am not ruling out adding that to our Baby Time … but I also wanted to just START and the easiest way to just start was to round up some board books and encourage one on one sharing with caregivers and babies and then GO.  And that’s proven to be a beloved part of the routine.  No one seems to need choral readings of one titles and it really makes the book sharing more intimate.  If you’re nervous about getting a whole set of one title or don’t have the funds?  Don’t let that stop you! The important part is putting the books out there and sharing what you know about how caregivers can share the books with babies. We pour out two buckets of books and magic happens!


Remember I said we don’t tell older siblings to leave?  One tip I picked up while I was building my Baby Time skills was to have dolls on hand for the older sibilings.  (Yes, I’m talking about 3-5 year olds here!) If we have an older kid who wants to be PART of Baby Time, we have a bucket of dollies to encourage them to participate by following along with their own baby. I ask them to be a helper and a leader for the babies and they love this. First, this is adorable.  Second, it encourages play and keeps them (somewhat!) focused on the program.  What’s not to love?  We bought a case of these dollies from Dollar Tree (as you know, I often buy from them in bulk!) and they can even work for the babies during play.


And, of course, I have to have a baby of my own!  How else can I lead the activities?  Our baby is named Eebee.  He’s an real branded character, but most people aren’t familiar with him.  I won two Eebee’s at an ALA raffle YEARS ago and once we started Baby Time, I knew he was my perfect baby!


Yes, grown-ups don’t always like him and sort of find him creepy.  But babies LOVE him and are drawn to him.  I love him because, unlike many stuffies or baby dolls, he has EVERY thing we sing about (well not a bellybutton, sadly) to the babies.  Note his clearly articulated fingers, toes, nose, and ears!  Now, when I say and sing these I am really modeling to caregivers. We also carry Eebee through the department right before the program begins, cradling him like a baby, to invite people to the program.  They have become familiar with him, so he signals to even our non English speaking patrons that BABY TIME BABY FUN BABY BOUNCE time is happening.


You can!  You really can!  I think my whole staff had some trepidation about Baby Time.  I know I did!  It felt like it was never going to work or that we were wasting time and not connecting.  We we worried we’d never get the right age to come or that it wasn’t “program-y” enough.  Yes, there were bumps.  Yes, patrons didn’t instantly get what we were doing.  But after just a few sessions, parents (and staff) could see the babies really laughing and smiling and loving the bounces and it just felt right.

The most common refrain about Baby Time is: no one does it the same way.  This is true!  And don’t be afraid of that! Try something out.  I was SO WORRIED because we didn’t read books (even just one!) or do choral readings of the same board book but it didn’t ruin our Baby Time or make it useless, it just made us work harder to connect caregivers with the rhymes and bounces and it gave us a new way to explain that the library isn’t just books and building early literacy skills didn’t have to center ONLY around books.

I’m so glad we started Baby Time.  It has been a learning experience – heck, it still is.  If you don’t have a baby time … start one NOW!  You don’t need to learn a thousand rhymes or buy a thousand things: get two sets of stacking cups, a handful of board books, and use 6 of the rhymes in this post and you’re READY TO GO.

We don’t get huge crowds for Baby Time, but we can average 6-12 grown-ups per session, which ends up with a room full of bouncing, laughing, LEARNING babies.  What could be better?

Do you have a Baby Time?  I want to hear all about it and see pics and learn about what works for you and what your patrons love and learn from it!  I want to hear about your successes, your failures, and your plans! Leave me a comment or chat with me on Twitter about it.

If you haven’t started Baby Time, have no fear! Eebee and I believe in you!



Two Quick Passive Programs for Spring

We just wrapped up our Spring Break.  Last year, as you might remember, we experimented with doing a week worth of mostly school-age programming.  We had mixed results, but I’m glad we tried it.  You can read all about what we did during that week here. But I was going to be out of town this Spring Break (along with another staff member) so we didn’t really have the staff to do this kind of programming again.  AND YET!  I still loved offering something for our families or drop-ins who were in town and looking for something to do and somewhere to be. I want them to think of us year round, after all, and that’s what programs are there for.

So, inspired by some ideas I’d seen floating around Twitter, I whipped up two quick passive programs for families and kids to do over the course of the week in their own time.  All together these took a few hours to create and less than an hour or so to set-up.  The results were more than worth it.  We had dozens and dozens of families and kids on their own participating over the course of the week for very little staff time. Here’s how they worked.

1. The Great Character Hunt! (geared at families and kids aged 2-6, but open to all)

I printed out nine characters from famous picture books (and here were some complications – I wanted to make sure there were female characters represented and characters of color too … easier said than done, eh?) and then had a fellow staff member hide them around Youth Services.  Participants got sheets at the front desk and then walked around looking for the characters (maybe even learning about picture books and becoming more familiar with Youth Services as they walked around…)  and recording their locations.  When they brought the sheets back they got small prizes: a scratch n sniff bookmark, a plastic pirate treasure coin, and a color your own sticker.  (Nothing big and all stuff we already had lying around.) They also got to sign their name to the I COMPLETED THE GREAT CHARACTER HUNT! poster, which let us track their work and gave us a great in-house visual. Let’s take a look at some pictures!


Madeline hid out by the doorway of our dollhouse! (notice in the next pic how she looks almost like a doll for the house…)

madeline full


Where’s Waldo in our dino mural?


Pigeon was located on puzzle stand – a good place for families who play with puzzles to see him and ask what he was doing there, inviting them into the hunt!


Max blended in with the background when he went on the window.

complete sheet

Here are the signed complete sheets: you’ll notice the book covers from where our characters are from.  And can you spy Peter hiding by the last place someone might look?

2. The Epic Quest (for the older kids, suggested for ages 7-12)

This was a basic scavenger hunt that required kids to use the catalog and explore our resources.  They had to physically go to some locations (“The library subscribes to many magazines!  Find one and write the name down.” Maybe you didn’t know there WERE youth magazines!) and just use the catalog for other questions (“What is the name of the author of the book Better Nate Than Ever?”) which involved not only using the catalog but then figuring out how to decode the information from the catalog.

This worked well with the character hunt because it also had the look and find elements but felt “older” because there was catalog work involved.  When they completed, they received the same simple prizes and got to sign their own sheet. (as you can see above.)

Want to do this at your library?  I can’t recommend it enough!  And to get you started here are examples of the sheets we used.  They’re linked through Google Docs, feel free to modify and save them for your own work. (if you want Word copies, email me and I’ll be happy to send them along.)

Great Character Hunt Key

(helpful note: the exact same images on this sheet were  what I used for the hidden images.  No need to send them looking for another version.  Unless you wanted to make it a little more challenging!  Participants received a sheet with the names of each character with a line next to it for them to write down location. These were the character key sheets they took on the hunt with them for recognition and were encouraged to return – but we definitely could have modified them into TAKE US HOME TO READ ALL OUR BOOKS! bookmarks/flyers.  Next time!) 

Epic Quest Questions

The second passive display also ties into National Poetry Month!  I think I saw someone mention or allude to something along these lines in the #titletalk chat (you should definitely participate in TitleTalk, it’s one of my most favorite Twitter chats) about poetry and I ran with it the very next day.  I wasn’t sure how it was going to work, but I wanted to give it a try.  What is it?


Yup, we basically cut out some tree shapes out of brown butcher paper, cut out some leaves out of green cardstock, wrote some poems on them, and then left the shapes out for people to compose their own poem/leaves and hang them up.  The very day the trees went up I immediately talked two teenagers into sitting down and writing the first poems for us.  The concept is so simple to grasp, it looks so cool with a set of poem/leaves already up, the leaves are RIGHT THERE – well, it’s hard to resist!

They’ve been up for a few weeks and we’ve seen lots of fun stuff as our trees have gained leaves!  Silly haikus and rhymes from teenagers.  Meditative poems about nature and leaves from middle schoolers and high schoolers. And, one of my favorites, parents sitting down and talking about poetry, forms of poetry, rhythm, rhyme, and figurative language with their very young children and writing poems together.  (well, maybe the parents do most of the writing and the kids say a few words or phrases, but they do it together and it’s pretty darn amazing.)  The POETREES themselves frame one of our larger display shelves, so it’s also a great way to spotlight poetry titles and get them circulating.  Pictures, I say!

poetree 1

One tree from the distance (this one is mostly full of poems we wrote out, but has some from patrons too.)

poetree 2This tree is mostly patron poems, but has a few others scattered in AND our Explanation Apple!

up close poetree 1Here’s an up-close of some leaves – note the one with little kid scrawl is one that the parent and child wrote together!

up close poetree 2

More up close of patron poems of all ages!

leaves basket Our leaves basket for patrons.

poetrees full

The poetrees in full bloom!  Note the shelf full of poetry books between them.

There you have it!  Two quick programs with not a ton of staff time involved (though the hunt and promoting it did not run itself!) but with HUGE returns. Both of these programs/displays gave patrons a chance to participate in their own time, create together, add something fun to the library’s landscape, and learn about the library and our resources.  (as well as build early literacy and information literacy skills, don’t forget that part!)  Overall: big successes we learned from and definitely want to repeat, in different ways, throughout the year!

Have you done this or any kind of passive programming at your library?  What worked?  What didn’t?  How do your patrons like passive programming and how do you tie it into larger events like Spring Break or National Poetry Month? Are there any questions or details about these displays/programs I didn’t answer or that you want more info/samples about? Let’s talk about it all! (Comment here, send me an email, or talk with me on Twitter!)


Spring Break Programming: We Did It (and so can you)

This year I decided it was time for our library to try out Spring Break programming.  I’d be reading about all these amazing youth programs happening at libraries, getting all inspired and fired up, and I decided five days with no school just seemed like too big of an opportunity to pass up.  Maybe we’d get really low turn-out, too many people traveling, no one really coming out during the week.  But my hope was that we’d give parents with several children, now all at home, a little break and maybe even see some new faces.  It also seemed like a good way to start promoting summer: you think this is fun?  We’ve got two months of this coming!  I decided it was worth the effort to try.

And boy was it!  We had about 150 people attend our five day Spring-Break programming spree (not counting our regularly scheduled programs for the 0-5 set,  Music & Movement and storytimes, which continued on during Spring Break).  This was a GREAT number for us, far beyond my original hopes.  So, here’s what we did and here’s what we learned.

We had programs for children/parents on Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday.  All our programs began at 2:00, a tradition we carried over from summer.  It’s hard to find a non-nap-non-snack time that works but we’ve found 2:00 is going to be as good as it gets.  Here’s how the week broke down.

  • Monday – Game Day! We put the Wii out and hauled out our board games.  This was a moderate success: about 20 adults and children gamed.  Three 7-10 year olds rocked out on the Wii with Guitar Hero and Super Smash Brothers and the rest all played board games: Memory, Animal Upon Animal, Don’t Spill the Beans, Operation, Chutes and Ladders, and Kerplunk were some favorites.  As always, the slightly older set (6-10) loved the loud games (Operation and Kerplunk) and the slightly younger set (3-5) loved the simpler games (Chutes and Ladders and Don’t Spill the Beans).
  • Tuesday – Teen Day! Our usually scheduled Teen Advisory Group met and then we had an evening screening of The Avengers.  Not great attendance at either, ten total, so  not the worst, but it’s always hard for us to get teens to show up on days there aren’t school, but it was important for us to include teen programs!  Avengers had high interest – we got tons of questions about it and it prompted me to decide to have a summer screening of it for all ages!
  • Wednesday – Clifford’s Birthday Party!  Like many libraries, we decided to celebrate Clifford’s 50th birthday party.   This was our best attended program, a big hit. We had a daycare group show up for this, which added to the complications, but hey, we rolled with it!  About 50 people, adults and children, attended this program.
  • Thursday – Amelia Bedelia’s Birthday Party! We decided having two birthday parties for two beloved characters back to back was a good plan.  This crowd skewed older than Clifford, though we still had younger patrons, which fit well with the Amelia Bedelia jokes.  It was another happy success. About 45 people, adults and children, attended this program.
  • Friday – Makerspace! We launched Makerspace with this program – three craft CreationStations and our Lego-Duplo blocks out.  The CreationStations involved beading, paper weaving, and cutting and gluing. The Duplo blocks, making their debut appearance before this summer’s Lego Club, were an runaway hit – they were used in a lot of active play and used to build fences, skyscrapers, birds, and airplanes.  This was a slower program, but we still had about 25 children and adults attend.

makerspaceMAKERSPACE CreationStation products

What did we do at the birthday party events?  We structured them around our very successful stand-alone summer programs.  Over the past two years we’ve shifted away from “attend every day for a week!” or even “attend every Wednesday!” summer programming and shifted to, instead, one day events focused on a certain theme/book.  I think we’ve seen a lot of gains from that – far more flexibility and variet, more drop-ins, and less pressure about attending (but I can’t come every day!) are a win-win in my book and I think for patrons too.  The Clifford and Amelia Bedelia events were structured the same way.  Here’s the agendas:

  • We read the first Clifford book – it still got lots of giggles and laughs and audience participation, they loved it! “She’s washing him in a swimming pool, how silly!” 
  • They went on a bone scavenger hunt. Our kids LOVE scavenger hunts – it’s always a favorite at events.  We cut out and taped up 50 paper bones all through out the youth services area. They peeled them off and brought them back. They could do this over and over so I recruited some older attendees to re-hide them so the fun just kept going.  I honestly think most kids could have done this the whole hour!
  • They had two simple crafts and this was a big mistake, I learned over this programming extravaganza it’s MUCH better to have more activities than less. Too few and they finish WAY too quickly and start to get restless. One craft was to color and then cut out a bigger bone and then go tape it up on a Clifford birthday cake. (You’ll see from the photo it was pretty adorable!) They also used paint and Q-Tips to paint Clifford, which was a big hit but, again, not enough.
  • We wrapped up with a snack time: red punch, strawberries, cheap cookies, and Chex mix. Nothing too fancy, the strawberries were a little pricey, but I thought splurging for fruit was worth it.  We fed about 30 kids for under $25.

bone cakeBONE CAKE!

For Amelia Bedelia the structure was very similar  but I’d learned from the mistakes the day before and did a better job separating the craft/eating stations (a huge mistake from the day before –  there must be space!) and having more activities on hand.

  • We read the very first Amelia Bedelia.  I admit, I had a staff member in the audience to be a ringer and prompt the laughter and we had a little time to stop and talk about the book.  “Draw the drapes can mean to make a picture of them or to close them!  Which do you think Mrs. Rogers meant?!” I also had a third grade helper in the crowd and that worked quite well, he was a good leader.  Still, the kids got into it as it went along, even the younger ones, and by the time we got to the chicken in suspenders and socks they were practically dancing with anticipation to see what she’d done.  It was rewarding to see the book really work with them and worth the conversation and engaging.  Made me totally fall in love with the cleverness of the books all over again.
  • Their crafts were to decorate the wings of a BUTTERfly, to cut out and color clothes to dress our giant chicken, and to create their own pie and write about what it had inside in little mini-books.  It was just the right amount of crafts: plenty to do for some, enough to focus on just one for other.  Overall, a big improvement from Clifford BUT we were dealing with an older crowd!
  • Snacks were the same but with grapes instead of strawberries.  Even more pricey but…fruit splurging!  They were also in a separate area from the crafts, which took a lot of pressure off all involved!


book display






(The BUTTERfly template: big wings to decorate and color, Amelia Bedelia book display, my student worker all wrapped up in a story.)

I’d be happy to share .PDF or editable files of anything we used for anyone interested.  My amazingly gifted student worker who is also an artist created many templates for us and I bought the pie unit for $3 on Teachers Pay Teachers, the one site I never mind spending money on.

Some takeaways:

  • Mini-books are where it’s AT!   They weren’t really on my radar until I started visiting teacher sites and talking about teaching methods with my roommate the third grade teacher but I love them!  I think they’re great for early literacy and understanding story, and parent-child activity, and EVERYTHING LIBRARY.  I am definitely going to incorporate more into programs and even storytimes.  Anyone else use them and have ideas to share?
  • Love to the publishers, Scholastic and HarperCollins, for promoting the birthdays and creating such fun event kits.  (Clifford /Amelia Bedelia) The event kits were really good motivators and idea sources.  More of this, please!
  • Tied into that: seeing the books check-out was a real highlight and very gratifying   Almost all of them were checked-out at both events.  On Friday, one patron came back to tell me that she and her parents had baked the cake from Amelia Bedelia Bakes Off.  How cool is that?
  • We had the most success in the middle of the week.  I think there was some traveling happening on Friday (it was a slower day in the library in general).  I don’t think it was JUST that those were the events people were interested in, though that was a factor I’m sure,  it seemed like the real momentum was the middle of the week.  Having something every day was easier for promotion, though, and gave us chances to talk everything up.
  • Related: being able to promote things on our newly created (well, a few months ago) Facebook page really helped – posting every day kept it fresh in people’s minds that SOMETHING was happening today and several items got shared by our local online news source which has a few thousand followers.

In all, Spring Break programs succeeded beyond all my dreams!  I’m glad we decided to take a leap and try something new out.  There were a lot of really great, rewarding, library moments: the mom who brought her tiny baby to Clifford and Amelia Bedelia and held him during reading and colored with him in her lap, the older kids volunteering to help during the two events by putting out chairs and hiding bones and helping younger kids color, hearing the marbles crash down during Kerplunk as kids giggled, parents we don’t usually see during the school year telling us they couldn’t wait for summer, parents in general thanking us for being there during the week off, grandparents having a chance to attend programs, Duplo planes zooming around in younger children’s hands while older siblings made beaded necklaces.  It doesn’t get much more inspiring than that!  It was worth the leap of faith – thanks to all of you out there blogging and tweeting about what you do, it makes me want to try. 

Does YOUR library do Spring Break programs or programs on days your school districts are off?  Have you been inspired to try them?  Most importantly: what ideas do you have to share?