Eight Story Hour Suggestions

Attendees leave Story Hour, books in hand, empowered to dive into literacy on their own with ease, confidence, and enthusiasm. That’s all because librarians spark interest in reading and learning FOR PLEASURE. No other group is more devoted to their cause. Teachers are trained to teach students how to read. Educated parents may encourage the habit. But librarians are masters at demonstrating the FUN of exploring the written world. Nowhere else is this magical mastery evident then at a public library’s Story Hour.

Public libraries have been offering free Story Hours for decades. Children’s librarians are trained to select and read engaging books, as well as lead the audience to participate in vocabulary-stretching songs, fingerplays, and chants. Quality Story Hours model early literacy skills. Every child must learn early literacy skills before s/he can be taught how to read.

Obviously, I am a fan of Story Hour. I’ll bet if any longitudinal studies were done, the benefits for consistent Story Hour attendees would include: broader vocabulary, higher level of and long-lasting enjoyment of reading, and better read aloud capabilities. (If anyone has stumbled upon such a study, please send it my way!)

Because I am such a fan, I assign Library Technology students in my Children’s Library Services College class to observe two separate Story Hours, conducted by different Librarians. The goal is to have them experience a “live” Story Hour as an audience member. Students then write brief descriptions about what they saw, but, more importantly, share with me what they learned from their observations.

What follows are some of their informal conclusions. I organized them into eight categories. No names or locations have been used. The goal is not to rate local Story Hours, but to offer suggestions for how to evaluate and improve them based on raw feedback from (speaking and writing) audience members.

Setting: Many Story Hours took place in a non-child-centered multi-purpose room (MPR) outside of the children’s reading area. While observers understood the lack of space and the need to limit distractions, they didn’t understand why the MPR couldn’t be made more attractive with bulletin boards or other temporary child-friendly decor during Story Hour.

Display: Most presenters displayed the books they read during Story Hour, but too few made available recommended books for check out afterwards. (One observer found this particularly upsetting, as do I. Since one of the primary purposes of Story Hour is to share books with readers, why not, you know, SHARE BOOKS!)

Introductions: Some Story Hour Presenters did not introduce themselves by name. Most of them introduced the books they read by title, but hardly any announced the author’s name as well.

Pacing & Energy: Most Story Hour presenters were portrayed as upbeat, energetic, “rock stars.” In stark contrast, a group of teen volunteers read back-to-back stories for a Story Hour. The children “lost attention before the end of the third book.” However, there were a few presenters described as being “in a hurry,” “rushed,” or “doing their duty.” Observers appreciated being able to view illustrations and to interact with the presenter at a developmentally appropriate pace.

Transitions – Observers noticed when children’s interest waned or wandered. Sometimes this was the result of the presenter searching for a song on the iPod. Other times, attention was lost when the presenter read a “long nonfiction book” or did not clearly communicate how to participate during story stretchers.

Approach-abilty: Observers portrayed parent interactions with librarians before and after Story Hour in a positive way.

Responsiveness: Observers noticed when a presenter “did not offer assurance to a crying child” or “continued reading despite a ruckus.” They preferred to see presenters engage and interact with the audience by asking questions and inviting participation.

Endings: Most Story Hours had a positive, clear cut ending, i.e., a particular song, hand stamp, craft, play time, etc. However, a few students noted anti-climactic energy when Story Hours ended with “time to clean up.”

There you have it. Eight simple Story Hour suggestions. Use them to pat yourself on the back or to make improvements in the future. In any case, remember that Story Hours are not about crafts, music, props, hand stamps, puppets, or even about the “rock star” Librarian. Story Hours are about cultivating enthusiasm for literacy and about connecting young readers (and their parents) with the delicious books they crave!

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