Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Toddler Storytime

By C.J. Hirschfield

A few weeks ago, Fairyland completed a two-day training session for eight new volunteer readers for our popular Toddler Storytime. Four librarians, three teachers, and a professional children’s performer made it through the intensive workshop.

They’re an outstanding group, and we can’t wait for them to share what they’ve learned with our appreciative young crowds, who gather on our Emerald City stage every Friday at 10:30 and 3. The before- and after-nap crowds, as we like to say.

Fairyland's newest Toddler Storytime storytellers. Back row: Shana Barchas, second from left; Angela Moffett, third from left.

You might ask yourself: “What’s the big deal? There’s nothing tough about reading a story to a kid.” Well listen up, and learn what we’ve come to know.

Toddler Storytime made its debut in spring 2014, thanks to Shana Barchas, our education director, and Angela Moffett, a newly minted children’s librarian. Angela is now working for the Oakland Unified School District, but at the time she was completing a master’s degree in library science, under the guidance of the Oakland Public Library (OPL). OPL and Angela played key roles in creating and implementing Storytime, which has become a beloved feature of our park. As far as we know, Fairyland now hosts the only weekly outdoor storytime in the East Bay.

Storyteller Ron Zeno in action.

It’s a big part of our mission to encourage early childhood literacy through talking, reading and singing. And it fits right in at the park. Let Shana explain: “Kids are – understandably – excited to come to our park, with its rides, slides and climbing structures. At Storytime, young children see reading as just one more fun activity interwoven into a day of play. And if kids start to see stories and books as fun, the spark of literacy can be lit.”

What happens at Storytime? Each session opens with a lively, interactive song. One of our trained readers reads – “performs” is more like it – three books specially selected for the toddler crowd. There’s body movement and finger play. A felt board and puppets to provide visual stimulus. Scarves, shakers and bells.  Comfy pillows for each child to sit on. And a rousing song to wrap things up.

All in about 20 minutes.

Why add all those non-reading elements to the mix? Because kids need to be introduced to language in different ways. Angela says that some kids learn language through touching, some through sound and music, some through movement and some through visuals.

Our Fairyland members – who come to the park on a regular basis – are especially avid fans of these special Friday programs. Sometimes more than 30 kids participate. If kids aren’t old enough to sit on their own pillows, they can enjoy participating in their adults’ arms or laps.

By the way, we love seeing those grownups singing, dancing and just enjoying the experience. We hope we’re inspiring them to play with storytime at home.

We also love the fact that many families head to our Reading Room right after Storytime. Angela has worked hard to make it a cozy space that offers a wide range of culturally diverse books.
Our cozy Reading Room.

I suppose if you were to describe Storytime in a clinical way, it would be “a focused 20 minutes of literacy that complements playing at Fairyland to stimulate a child’s development.” But really? It’s just super fun.

Our best testimonials come from the children themselves. Shana remembers that when one regular participant turned 2, his aunt was visiting from Japan. On his birthday, the family chose to bring the aunt to Fairyland so she could see him attend the Storytime he loves so much.

Another child has come to Storytime nearly every Friday afternoon for more than a year.  She recommends books to our storytellers, helps put away the pillows and even helps carry the heavy benches that needed to be moved onto the stage.  She seems to feel that the program is her very own, and that's just perfect – because it is. 

Want to learn some of our special Storytime techniques? Check out jbrary.com, a library of storytime resources – articles, videos and songs – that was created by two children’s librarians in Canada. It’s one of our favorite resources at Fairyland.


C.J. Hirschfield has served for 14 years as executive director of Children's Fairyland, where she is charged with the overall operation of the nation's first storybook theme park.

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