How I Fell in Love with Storytime by Jennifer Tazerouti
Last year, story time was a big challenge for me. Coming from two decades in the middle school arena, it was a new setting with new material and age levels. I stumbled through my own ideas of where the children should sit, whether I should sit or stand, which books were the best choices for story time, should I use a document camera, etc, etc. I spent the year doing story time standing up and reading to the children as they sat at tables. Go ahead and laugh!
In this second year of story time I now understand: the purpose of the story time rug, the story time chair and having a special corner or area for story time. But the biggest revelation for me was just how important story time actually is. Don’t get me wrong, I have always known that story time is a big deal and that reading aloud to children is hugely important, but the richness of it and the depth of what story time can be and do is much more than I originally gave it credit for. I underestimated it. Story time is an educational playground chock full of opportunities to teach vocabulary, literary elements and much more. It is also a time to personally connect with students. It creates a shared, community reading experience that can be referenced and built upon.
I now have a story time chair for the reader – that’s usually me! And, I have moved the area where we do story time to the back of the library, away from the distracting flow of checkout, visitors and chatting teachers, closer to our beanbag reading area near our lovely wall of floor to ceiling windows which provides much needed natural light and connection to nature. I remember first seeing the stepped area in our library with the bean bags and thinking that was the perfect place for story time. Now I know better. That area is too large and spread out for my version of story time.
I still don’t have a story time rug, because I haven’t found one that I like just yet. But, I do understand that the students need to sit on the floor to improve their ability to focus on the book and its illustrations, and that being close to each other is important. The rug defines that area and makes it special. Children need to see the reader’s facial expressions, and the reader needs to see the children’s facial expressions.
Sitting in our new story time area made our discussion of After the Fall: how Humpty Dumpty got back up again by Dan Santat, so much more intimate and special than it would have been had the children been sitting at tables. Intimate moments and mid story discussions are some of the reasons I have chosen not to use technology during story time unless I am not feeling well. I believe it would create a barrier between the reader and the student and that face to face experiences in our world are becoming a luxury. On those rare days when I am fighting a cold, I have found Storytime with Ryan and Craig, whose read aloud skills are entertaining.
I have always believed in doing the voices and making sounds effects when reading a story. The Legend of Rock Paper Scissors by Drew Daywalt with illustrations by Adam Rex is one of my favorite books to do the voices with. Now I also find that putting my own reactions into the read aloud is often appreciated by the students. The look of shock, surprise or anger on my face when a character does something unexpected is entertaining and often helpful to children in confirming their own reactions to the story. It is also fun. Student participation in repetitive aspects of books and sound effects is big fun for all. Students making the sound of wind blowing, putting their arms up like a tree and swaying in the wind. When we read Max at Night by Ed Vere one way the children participated was by pretending to the the wind blowing away the clouds to reveal the moon on the next page. I love to be able to physically involve students in story time. Max at Night also offers opportunities for the reader to talk to Max and tell him to watch out for the dog and to get off the roof.
I am enjoying learning about the art of story time. It feels great to be more confident and secure in my practice, and it certainly is more fun. I now have a more comprehensive understanding and a deeper appreciation for the goodness and importance of reading picture books to classes of students. It gives me the warm fuzzies to see these young and smiling faces eagerly anticipating a book being read to them, and has become one of my favorite parts of the job. I was thrilled to overhear one student say to another, “I love it when Mrs. Taz reads, she even does the voices.”
Teacher-Librarian Jennifer Tazerouti spent over 21 years working with middle school students, and teachers and now spends her days working with students from pre-school to grade eight in Spartanburg, South Carolina. The librarian keeps a professional blog at: www.auntielibrarian.com