Thursday Thoughts: Setting Virtual Storytime Goals

If you know me IRL or you’ve followed my blog for awhile, you know I’m a Storytime Plotter. I like walking into storytime with a plan, and I like centering that plan around goals. Usually those goals have to do with supporting early literacy practices and skills. It’s the teacher in me!

But what about when storytime goes online?

When my library closed our building to the public in March, I knew I would need a new framework for planning and assessing my virtual storytimes. I wanted to think carefully before adding my content to the cacophony of digital resources competing for families’ attention. And unlike library programs held in-house, virtual storytimes often lack that immediate visual audience feedback. How do you know what works when you only see yourself on the screen?

One thing you can do is plant kids in your virtual storytime audience! On the day of my first virtual storytime, I asked several friends with young children to watch and requested feedback. Another thing you can do is ground your storytime in digital media research and best practices. When I asked for feedback, I specifically asked questions about how my storytime was:

  • Engaging
  • Actively Involved
  • Meaningful
  • Social

These goals come from Zero to Three’s E-AIMS Model. High quality screen time experiences for young children should Engage the child in a clear learning experience or story. Developmentally appropriate screen time experiences also Actively Involve the child to think about the content and participate. This content should be Meaningful and reflective of the child’s lived experiences. Lastly, digital media for young children should encourage caregivers and children to Socialize and participate in the experience together.

Sounds a little familiar to early literacy storytime, doesn’t it?!

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These goals inform my entire virtual storytime plan: the content I pick, the way I connect activities together, how I pace my presentation. How does one go about making virtual storytimes engaging, actively involved, meaningful and social? For me, this means…

  • Asking questions across the screen: e.g. “What do cows say?”
  • Giving 5-10 seconds of wait time for audiences to respond at home.
  • Encouraging children to chat with their caregivers: e.g. “Let’s pretend we’re at the zoo riding around in a little red wagon! What do you see? Tell your grown-up!”
  • Anticipating some answers and responding, even though I can’t actually hear them: e.g. “I see a giraffe, too!”
  • Explicitly addressing both children and caregivers: e.g. “Grown-ups, I love this stop and go song because…”
  • Connecting to resources and activities for families at home: e.g. “We can’t visit the zoo right now, but we can watch our animal friends from home! You can find the link to fun zoo field trips from home by visiting our website at…”
  • Sharing diverse songs and stories, so that all children see themselves meaningfully and accurately reflected. Diversity is essential not just to library collections/programs, but to high quality digital children’s media. This affirmation and positive representation matters now more than ever!

Basically, I channel Dora. Or Steve from Blue’s Clues. 🤣

In light of the current global health crisis, I also try to incorporate:

  • Modelling talking about feelings: e.g. “It’s hard to be away from the people and the places that we love. But that means when we see them again, we’re even more happy – look how big Yumi and Grandma smile when they finally get to see each other!”
  • Positively reinforcing and empathizing with caregivers: e.g. “Wow, you are all so good at pretending to be wild animals! I bet your grown-ups are thinking you’ve had A LOT of practice while we’ve been inside lately.” 🤣
  • Giving kids an opportunity to say “no” and feel knowledgeable/powerful: e.g. “Do pigs say Moo? No! That’s silly.”

These days are scary and uncertain for adults, let alone kids. A lot of things are outside a child’s control even on regular days! I always look for ways to let kids say “no” during storytime because not only does this help them feel powerful/knowledgeable, saying no is an important life skill. I wish I was better at it myself! I want to help my storytime kiddos own their knowledge and experiences and comfort levels – and feel confident expressing that knowledge and those limits to others. I hate to say it, but there are also times when a child might NEED to say “no” to an adult for their own safety. I want to give all kids practice setting boundaries and saying “no” to someone who is older and bigger than they are.

How is your virtual storytime experience going? What best practices have you discovered and incorporated? I would love to learn more in the comments below!


…speaking of Best Practices, we’ll be talking about screen time, adapting your presentation style and more in the upcoming ALSC Virtual Storytime Services Guide. Stay tuned! I hope to have more time to share some virtual storytime plans in action once this big project is finally complete! 😊

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