Thanks Miss Julie!

I had been looking for a library story time for Max.  The problem was that most nearby programs began at 11 a.m. and I had to pick up Max’s sister Nora from preschool at 11:30.  Finally I found a time that worked great at the West Acres Branch of the West Bloomfield (MI) library, and they allowed residents from nearby communities to join in!   I loved having this special opportunity for Max, and I was very grateful and impressed by Miss Julie – the story hour teacher.

This story time was special because Miss Julie has really mastered the art of presenting to preschoolers.  She understands early childhood development, she is always well prepared, and her enthusiasm and attitude make it so much fun for the children.

Each week there are between 25-30 children who attend this free program, along with their respective adults!  The little ones range in age from small babies to 4 year old preschoolers, with an occasional older sibling visiting too!   One of the challenges Miss Julie takes in stride is that this room also contains dramatic play equipment, built in along three sides of the room.  There are some children actively playing throughout story time, going back and forth between the program and playing.  There are many other disruptions, such as parents calling their child’s name across the room, phone conversations taking place within a few feet of Julie reading a story, upset toddlers and babies… but Miss Julie just smiles and goes on with her program.

Because Julie understands that young children need consistency and feel secure when they know what to expect, she has a basic format that she uses each week.  She begins the program by encouraging the children to move around and stretch different parts of their body – that also helps them develop self and body awareness.  Then she sings/chants a simple tune:

Come on everybody clap your hands, come on everybody clap your hands

Come on everybody cause we’re gonna read a story, come on everybody clap your hands.

Then she changes it to stomp your feet, pat your knees, wiggle your body, etc. and the final verse is:

Come on everybody take a seat, come on everybody take a seat,

Come on everybody cause we’re gonna read a story, come on everybody take a seat.

Julie uses a wonderful combination of noticing individual children, acknowledging those who blurt out or come up very close to her, and ignoring disruptive behaviors.   Some parents sit on the floor with their kids, others sit in small chairs or stand next to tiny babies in strollers.  Some children are very attentive and follow every move and direction, some come and go, others seem oblivious of the fact that a program is going on in the room.  With so many children and adults in the room, what could be chaotic and unmanageable just seems to work out okay.

Each week Julie has a theme and choses an appropriate story, movement songs and a simple craft that all tie together.  She usually has at least two books that go along with the theme, but often only reads one with the group.  Sometimes she is able to sit down and read to the group, but occasionally she has to stand up to read, carefully holding the book so the children can enjoy the pictures.  Her voice is strong and loud enough for the children to hear without sounding like she is yelling over the crowd.  Her enthusiasm and inflection make listening to the story fun for the children.

What impressed me the most from the first time I brought Max to this story time is how well Julie manages transitions.  After releasing their wiggles, the introductory song ends with the children sitting down ready to hear the story.  She often follows the story by passing out finger puppets that encourage the children to interact in a thematic song.

Sometimes she uses recorded songs for the children to sing along and dance, other times she just plays and sings with them without music.  Her use of technology is seamless – she prepares a playlist on her phone or iPod and simply presses the button to play the next song on a reliable, small speaker.  I never saw her take any time away from the children to find the song or materials she needs – her preparation and organization are remarkable.

I also appreciated the wonderful materials the library made available for these preschool story hours.  I especially loved the amazing variety of finger puppets they shared; and they always had enough for every child.   She always has all the materials she plans to use organized and close at hand.  The first time I took Max I thought he would cry when it was time to give the finger puppet back, but she had the children trade in the puppets for scarves (or rhythm sticks, or another play prop).

Julie gives the children opportunities to follow directions with the materials she shares.  She uses concepts like fast and slow, quiet and loud, up high and down low, as she plays along with the children.  Sometimes she encourages them to make letters by holding the two rhythm sticks in the shape of a V or a T.  The music and songs she uses go along with the weekly theme.  Sometimes she adapts a familiar song to go along with her theme – like instead of 5 Little Monkeys swinging in a tree – 5 Little Fish swimming in the ocean, along came a shark… hungry as can be!

The last thing she passes out to the group every week is small bottles of spill proof bubbles that must need to be refilled often!

After a few minutes of enjoying the bubbles and songs she encourages the children to return the bubbles by singing their good bye song.

“We had some fun and now we’re done!  Good bye!  Good bye!”   Of course you could use any good bye song you like, but it is a clear, friendly signal that story time is over.   Following that the children go out into the main part of the library where materials are organized and available on tables to make a simple thematic craft.

Julie circulates around the room and stops to notice the colors or techniques children are using, and appreciating their effort.

Attending story time each week has been a highlight for Max!  He calls it Story School and always gets excited when Friday comes along.  I just wanted to tell Miss Julie thank you… Max loved it!

 

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