7 Ways to Make Story Time More Fun for Everyone

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StoryTime Behavior

I have a unique perspective of  Story Time behavior.  I run Story Times for my local library and I bring my 3 1/2 year old to my preschool programs. I have to say I haven’t seen a lot of these problems in my own Story Times…except from my own son!  Trust me when I say he has often been a handful! Having been on both sides of the “picture-book” I have noticed some things we can all do to help kids get the most out of children’s programming.

7.  Cover the Basics

Ever hear the phrase “don’t wake a sleeping baby?” Same goes for bigger kids too! I don’t ever want to discourage anyone from coming to Story Time, but illness, sleep and meal times are far more important, especially if we are trying to encourage appropriate behavior!

If Story Time is during your child’s regular nap then check with your library staff about other programming. My kid’s nap times evolved as they grew – so you may find what doesn’t work right now may be ideal time in a few months.

Check your library’s policy before bringing snacks to Story Time.  Better yet, have a snack before Story Time!

6. Be a Communication Interpreter

All behavior is communication. When a child is behaving well s/he is communicating that they are happy, their basic needs have been met and they are engaged.  When a child is not engaged, being distracting, attention seeking or destructive s/he is communicating that all is not well.  The trick is figuring out exactly what the problem is.  Is your child comfortable and familiar with your library? Overwhelmed by the crowd? Distracted by toys in the children’s area? Maybe you need to take a few trips to the library just to explore and get to know the place. If the size of the crowd or the excitement level is too much for your little one try a program that limits the class size. Give a program more than one chance though – often the kids are better behaved when they know what to expect.

5. Work on Your Timing

My oldest son had more fun at Story time when we arrived early and got comfortable. He was happier and better behaved if he was able to play with a few toys or read a few books on his own before the program started. My youngest son is much more motivated if we arrive on time and get involved in the program right away without distractions.  The promise of some one-on-one reading time or the chance to play with a toy or the computers after Story Time will usually ensure better behavior. Likewise, there are some kids that can arrive late and have no problem jumping right in and there are some kids that really can’t handle it at all. Figure out what you need to do to have a happy kid at the beginning of the program!

4. Be Patient With Age-Appropriate Behavior

Caregivers are often frustrated that toddlers can’t sit still.  Toddlers aren’t supposed to sit still! Try a little lap bounce or maybe take a quick walk around. Story Time should include movement to help get the wiggles out! Kids who haven’t started preschool won’t know to raise their hands or sit criss-cross-applesauce. They will learn these skills in time, be patient!

3. Reward Good Behavior Ignore Challenging Behavior

Many challenging Story Time behaviors are an attempt to get attention.  Try giving more positive attention and see if that helps! Try helping your little one become actively engaged. I always fear that kids who are shamed or punished at Story Time will grow to despise the activity, libraries, and reading.  We want kids to love these things!

2. Know When to Call it a Day

There is no shame in leaving a program early if your child is distressed. Hold your head high and remember we’ve all been there. Try again next week.

1. Be a Model

I know how much we all crave adult interaction, and I know how tired we all are and how we are all trying to do too many things at once, but this is not the best time for a chat or to catch up on texts and phone calls.  Story Time should be a positive and fun time to share with our kids. They are always watching us and learning from us. So, arrange to meet your friends for coffee after Story Time, set the phone to vibrate and JOIN IN THE FUN!

About Anne McKernan

Once upon a time Anne McKernan, a very tired mother of two, walked in to a library ... the next thing she knew she was leading her town library's story time programs. Read more at http://itsybitsymom.wordpress.com


  1. Do you have any suggestions for the library staff running the program? In our preschool program the parents technically are supposed to wait outside the program room (there are a few kids who need their parent there though). We have kids who will hide under tables and run around the room. As the library person, I feel frustrated because the other kids who are paying attention are getting distracted by the misbehaving kids. And the kids behave like this even when the parent is in the room.

    • Kolleen Schlenker says:

      Start allowing the parents and caregivers into the room when you are doing storytime. I have been doing story time at a public library for 9 years. We encourage our parents and caregivers to participate in storytime. And they do, from singing, dancing, and helping their little one with a craft. We also allow our toddlers to toddle around the room during toddler/baby storytime. We know they are still listening. Parents often tell us that their little one will do signs and sing when they are at home, but will be shy when they are at storytime. Also, remember that during storytime, whether it’s preschool or baby, or toddler, the rhymes and songs you do are also for teaching the parent ways to interact with their child.

      • I agree! I always tell the parents in my programs that as long as no one is getting hurt I will not be disturbed by any kid’s behavior. They will learn how to sit and listen and how to fully participate eventually, but it takes time and patience. Their bodies are meant to MOVE – they will hear the words and music while they are moving – and exposure to language is our main goal!

    • Hello – so sorry this reply is late, but I was just notified today that you sent this comment! I have a couple of suggestions: the first is continue to be patient. Kids under the age of three really should have their parents/caregivers present if possible to assist you in corralling the chaos. Kids under three are not going to be able to remember the rules or proper behavior on their own unless they are attending a program daily. There is a big difference between a 3 year old who has started preschool and one who has not. With grown-up care-givers in the room be sure to establish your rules and expectations early and at every session. Ask them to help you make Story Time enjoyable for everyone and (if you have the space) offer an alternative activity for kids who are unable to calm down. My best suggestion though, is to reward the good behavior. Kids love the attention of a comment like “Wow, look how nicely Jack is sitting!” or “I can tell Molly is doing very good listening because she is keeping her body still.” Other kids may hear this and momentarily pause, and act in the way you are encouraging, hoping you will praise them too – and you MUST – even if they only sit or focus for a minute. Keep stories short and use lots of movement breaks. Top-load programs to put the longest books in the beginning and longer movement breaks and activities at the end of the program. I hope that helps!

  2. I really enjoyed reading your comments here. I am the “Story Time Lady” at our Library and the one thing that I try to repeat to all my parents is this…. We close the doors in the children’s room, don’t expect your children to always sit and listen, sometimes they just have to move around and listen, they just can’t help it. It’s ok. I just feel really bad if the child can’t sit still and then the parent doesn’t bring them back because they think there child is disturbing the other children. Usually over time the child will sit a little longer but that’s ok if they don’t!!

    • Yes! I agree! They really cannot stop themselves and they are not purposely misbehaving in any way! It is remarkable to see a new toddler who comes regularly evolve into a mature toddler/preschooler who can begin to regulate their body/behavior. If the families stop coming the kids will not be able to practice these skills!

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