When I was young and attended the “story hour” at my public library, there was a nice older lady who sat on a chair in front of a circle of children and read books. I enjoyed the stories, and I eventually became a children’s librarian myself. While the exposure to books was great, I was honestly more interested in sneaking away to look at the Guinness Book of World Records. What young boy wouldn’t be fascinated by the world’s heaviest twins on motorcycles?
Storytime programs at the Denton Public Library include songs and rhymes for a variety of reasons, one of which is to capture the imagination of children so that they’ll return to the library again and again. I think if I’d been more excited about the programs, I would have been a more avid library user as a child. The more that children use the library, the more chances for sneaking away and exploring new books (and new world records). Here are my personal top seven reasons for including music in my preschool storytime programs.
- Singing is a recognized pre-reading practice. Even if you don’t play any musical instruments, singing with children has many well documented benefits. Think of it as language at play. Rhyming is a mainstay of children’s music, and working with rhyme is one way to help children with something researchers call phonological awareness. This is the ability to understand (though not necessarily on a conscious level) that words are made up of different sound units that can be manipulated to change meaning. There really is some science behind this library science stuff.
- It’s fun. Think of the last meeting you had at work. How much fun did you have? Are you looking forward to the next meeting with unbridled anticipation? Probably not. Kids are the same way. I didn’t attend many of those story hours as a child because I wasn’t having fun. There’s nothing wrong with just reading stories to kids, but here’s a little secret: if the kids have fun, they’ll want to come back. Speaking as a parent, I know that I want to see my kids engaged and having fun, especially in activities that have educational value. So yeah, fun matters.
- I get to play lots of musical instruments. This is the selfish confession of a storytime troubadour. I play guitar, ukulele, auto harp, recorder, bells, egg shakers, and whatever else I can get away with. Not only do I get to play all these cool instruments in the library, I also take the show on the road when I visit local schools. Let’s see, if I get paid to play music so much, am I a professional musician? I’m leaning toward “yes.”
- I let children play the instruments I play. After my storytimes, I invite the kids up to strum on my guitar, ukulele, autoharp, or whatever musical instrument I have out that day. Lots of different ages get first-hand experience exploring music, including babies in my Mother Goose Time, toddlers in my Toddler Time, a mix of the two in my Baby and Toddler Time, and bigger kids in my Storytime. The babies are the best; their faces show unfettered awe when their little hands make a sound on something like the ukulele (which is what I routinely play for them). Fun wins again.
- I get to play with other musicians from time to time. Talk about fun! I invite other musicians to play in special performances that I’ve dubbed “Music Mania Storytime.” In these marvelous musical meetings, everything is a song, and we even sing the books. The best part is all the instrumentation. I’ve had folks play upright bass, viola, bongos, even the Chapman stick. It’s a guilty pleasure that I don’t feel guilty about.
- Music is a good gateway to the books I read in storytime. I read two or three books at every storytime, and that’s the real goal: getting children motivated to read. I think it’s amazing that part of my job is to introduce kids to Pete the Cat. Who doesn’t love Pete the Cat? Seriously.
- Parents and caregivers can share these books and songs at home. Home is where learning takes root. I give out song sheets with the words to the songs we sing in storytime, and I encourage participants to keep it going at home. Some of my programs repeat the same songs every week, with a “song of the week” thrown in for variety’s sake. This allows kids to learn the songs well, in the hopes that the words and tunes will stick with them. Maybe for life. Having a lifelong impact on the language development of kids is profound and humbling to me, and sharing fun and music along the way is a great side effect.