Last summer, when Sarah was only one and a half, we signed up for the library story time. School had just ended for the year, so I dragged my older girls along as well, telling them to go find a book while Sarah and I joined the other parents and toddlers. One miserable hour later, I walked away from the library, defeated. Sarah was either not ready, or wasn’t a “sit and listen” kind of kid. My disappointment at that realization was compounded by the whining coming from the back seat as we drove home. The older girls felt they had been robbed of a morning of running free on this beautiful, early summer day.
Despite knowing that my intentions were good, I decided to cut my losses and give in. The cacophony of three miserable children was more than I could take.
Fast forward a few months later to the Waverly Community House. While attending the open gym Tots & Toddlers Playgroup, I saw a flyer announcing a new addition to children’s programming: a drop-in story time to be held after play group on Fridays. As regulars at the Comm, we had to give it a try.
By this time, Sarah had turned two and I had higher expectations of her attention span, but again I was wrong. Trying to wrangle her into my lap when the reader began was futile. I looked around at most of the other parents and caregivers, children seated calmly, hands folded in laps, and wondered how they did it.
After a few humiliating and disruptive episodes where Sarah ran around the room with me behind her saying, “Shhh!”, another mom whispered some advice.
“Bring her hungry and give her a cookie when it’s time to sit down.” Brilliant. Why hadn’t I thought of that. Looking around, I noticed at least half the children sitting still were also munching something.
I figured out another tactic on my own. Story time is held in the Family Room, a colorful room full of books and toys. Whenever we would get there, Sarah had the need to explore. By going in a few minutes early, she could finish touching everything and be less distracted for the stories.
I also noticed she was more attentive to those readers who read books with bright colored, big pages and few words. Her attention was held longer when the reader was animated in their presentation and incorporated songs and finger-plays.
I took these lessons to heart when it was my turn to volunteer. I chose the biggest, most colorful, interactive books I could find. I delved back in my memory of great story times I’d attended with my older children a decade ago. I remembered how much they loved “The Hello Song”, “The Good-Bye Song” and almost any other interactive song toddlers could learn. I remembered some simple crafts that would follow the story. After I completed my first time in the reader’s chair one mom approached me.
“Are you an actor?” she asked. “You could be on Broadway!” I didn’t want to disappoint her, but no, I don’t even consider myself that outgoing. It’s just that you do whatever it takes to hold your audience.
This past week, Sarah was as resistant as ever to sitting at the appointed time. Luckily, Mrs. Davis of the Waverly Preschool was reading and had brought a felt board with cut out characters sure to attract even the most active toddler. I wrestled and cajoled Sarah into my lap, sure that if she looked at what was being offered, she’d be compelled to listen. And she finally did.
“Good girl!” I whispered in her ear excitedly. “Mama is so proud of how you are sitting!” It was an excellent 90 seconds.
(Regularly scheduled storytimes are offered by every branch of the Lackawanna County Library System including our local branches in Clarks Summit and Dalton. Registration is recommended. Storytime is also held at the Waverly Community House every Friday at 11 a.m. after Tots & Toddlers Playgroup. Registration is not required.)