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!
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.
HOW IT WORKS
- 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.
HOW IT LOOKS
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:
We also have a specific, permanent Baby Time cart, which always helps.
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.
BUT I CAN’T …
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!