Hard to believe it’s been a year since my first virtual storytime and blogging about using the Zero to Three E-AIMS framework! Thought I’d check in and share how this helpful model continues to influence my virtual storytime practice.
According to Zero to Three, a developmentally appropriate and high quality screen time experience for young children is:
Focuses the child’s attention on a specific learning goal.
Since I’m already in the habit of planning early literacy storytimes and evaluating the songs/stories for early literacy content, this comes pretty naturally.
When I led a recent exercise for my library’s districtwide youth and family services team, here’s what our groups said we already do/could try to make virtual storytimes engaging:
“Minds-on” – invites active participation from the child.
This looks a little different depending on if the audience is live and watching in realtime vs. watching a prerecorded video. Developmentally appropriate prerecorded content should look a lot like Dora The Explorer or Blue’s Clues – lots of questions, pauses, validation. Live virtual storytimes may have a lot more opportunities for interaction, depending on how they’re structured.
My library primarily does live virtual storytimes through Zoom, but posts an open link and doesn’t require registration. This means we keep most interactive features disabled (e.g. chat disabled, cameras off) in order to protect kids online privacy and safety. We also average about 70 participants per session, which would necessitate cameras and microphones off anyways! It’s a challenging framework, but I’ve found some fun ways to work within it and encourage active participation from home:
- Hands On: Minds-on means hands-on for kids! I always look for ways to incorporate tactile elements into storytime and will frequently ask caregivers to find substitute scarves (e.g. washcloths or jackets) or substitute shakers.
- Questions: There’s a setting in Zoom that allows participants to chat with the host only. I love taking advantage of this feature in storytime to involve both the kids and the adults! Sometimes when I ask questions, I also ask the caregivers to type what their child says in the chat box. I count to 7-10 seconds in my head after asking a question to make sure I’m building in adequate wait time!
- Preview: Previewing the actions for a song or rhyme helps everyone know what to expect and better participate!
- Repetition: Using familiar songs and rhymes and selecting content with lots of repetition is key to any storytime, not just virtual!
- Show and Tell: With upwards of 70 kids tuning in, this is really more just “show.” Towards the end of storytime, I’ll let families turn on their cameras and participate in a few last activities/songs. For example, we’ve gone on a shape scavenger hunt and showed off our stuffed animals at the end of bedtime storytime.
- Suggestions: Sometimes I ask the kids and caregivers for suggestions and incorporate their feedback into storytime – e.g. “What animal should we pretend to be next?” or “What’s your favorite bedtime song?”
This was a very busy board with lots of ideas during our group exercise:
Focuses on concepts, experiences and settings that children can relate to. Connections are made between new content and what is already familiar.
This element also speaks a lot to the content we choose and the way we present it. Here’s how I focus on making my virtual storytimes meaningful:
- Connections: I pay a lot of attention to how I connect activities. I also model making text-to-self and text-to-world connections. For example, while reading a book, I might ask kids if they can think of a time they ever felt frustrated like the character in the story.
- Content: When planning storytime and picking books, I try to center developmentally appropriate content that fits within most children’s lived experiences.
- Realia: I like to use objects and materials from everyday life. For example, when we sing “Little Red Wagon,” I ask the kids how we could fix the broken wheel. Should we use glue? Tape?
- Representation: Obviously, the most important thing we can do to make storytimes meaningful is read books with diverse human characters who are accurately depicted.
I also LOVE how Annamarie over at Book Cart Queens hosts Storytime Specials: storytimes based around the popular characters kids love!
You may notice some orange sticky notes on this JamBoard. I added some suggestions I felt were missing:
Encourages joint media engagement with adults (not just co-viewing).
This element was the most challenging for me to wrap my head around. It’s a lot easier to involve grown-ups and measure their engagement when you can see them!
- Set Expectations Early: Just like with in-person storytimes, let the adults know early on what their role will be. I ask caregivers to stick around as soon as virtual storytime starts and let them know their “jobs” – e.g. finding a substitute scarf, typing in the chat box. This expectation of joint participation is also something you could also work into your promotional materials.
- Speak Directly to Caregivers: Early literacy storytimes aren’t just for kids! In addition to my early literacy messages, I also make comments every now and then that are specifically addressed to the adults. I want them to feel like I’m talking with them, not just at them.
- Turn, Talk and Type: I mentioned earlier how I set up the Zoom chat to allow participants to chat with the host only. Throughout storytime, I’ll build in opportunities for families to turn, talk, and type their response in the chat box. Then my co-host reads the responses aloud.
- Extend the Experience: Give caregivers a way to extend the experience at home after storytime is over! For example, I’ve linked to activity guides for books, virtual zoo visits, etc. I would LOVE to provide a digital handout and empower caregivers to sing the songs and read the stories again at home (and reinforce the early literacy message), but for reasons unknown, this isn’t approved.
We’ve invested in this new program model and learned so much along the way. I really hope we will continue to provide virtual storytimes and services even when we are back to in-person programming!
What about you? What have you learned along the way? Would love to learn more in the comments below!