Tuesday, June 30, 2009

To Theme or Not To Theme?

Do you use themes for your storytimes?

I've been thinking about this since I started my new job. At my previous library, we didn't generally use themes for storytimes. The idea behind that is that it's better to read a handful of great readalouds than to stretch to find books that have to do with your theme. We kept track of the books we used in a database so that we didn't repeat them too often.

At my new library, we do tend to use themes. I've done storytime a couple of times now and to be honest, the kids could care less if all the books are about chickens or colors or whatever.

What are some advantages to using themes?

- It can make it easier to plan. There are a bazillion picture books out there, so which ones do you read at storytime? It's a little more manageable when you narrow it down to just books about dogs or eating or zoos. That said, it gets a little less manageable when your theme is so narrow that you can only find one book to read. I always keep in mind my good friend And. As in, "Today's theme is Cats and Dogs!"

- It might push you to include different books that are unexpected hits. Or maybe you don't normally look in the nonfiction section for your storytime books, but since your theme is "Milk", you decide to include a true book about where milk comes from. I'm always one for pushing the envelope and trying something new. And I'm a big advocate for including nonfiction books in programs and displays. If needing to stick to a theme will push you to try something new, I say go for it.

- Themed storytimes lend themselves to displays. Set up a table in your story room where you can display more books on your theme, and encourage attendees to check out the books. This is another chance to push your nonfiction and include some of those great picture books that aren't necessarily great readalouds.

All that said, does it really matter if we're reading books on the same theme? I'm thinking not. The more experience I get with this whole librarian thing, the more books I know about and the better I am at picking out books that'll work as readalouds. So that makes it easier to pick readalouds on certain themes.

And even if I do use a theme, I'm not afraid to go off-theme for a song or rhyme if need be. Throw a little Jim Gill in there or do some dancin' with Sharon & Brahm. The important thing is that you're sharing books with kids. That's why we love being librarians, right??

So, librarians, what do you think? Do you use themes for storytime? What are some of your favorites? Do you hate themes and all they stand for?

ETA (12:06pm): Seems we've heard from several supporters of themes for storytimes. Anyone want to make a case for not having themed storytimes? I know you're out there!

And parents, do you have a preference? Does your child? Why do you like themes (or dislike them)? Is there a reason you like stories that are connected in some way or does having a connection matter as long as all the books are fun readalouds?

(I am apparently full of questions today!)


Jennifer said...

Sort of. I do my storytimes in semesters, fall, spring, and summer. The first and last storytime in a semester is "just fun" when I pick out a bunch of favorite books and songs (MY favorites (-:). I do use themes, but I usually do them around a book. For example, "Hmm, I love Millie Waits for the Mail, so I'll do a cow storytime". I don't always have songs and rhymes that match - you can end up with some really, really dumb songs that way.

Unknown said...

I do use themes, for the reasons you list, although I often go off-theme with rhymes. I do programs for babies and toddlers, and they couldn't care less if there is a theme, except if it's something really popular (like "Big Machines" or "Animals.") My themes tend to be very simple -- "Colours" and "Numbers" and I always end my six-week sessions with some sort of "Goodnight" theme. I just end up feeling like things are more coherent, and I remember the rhymes and songs better myself that way.

Natasha @ Maw Books said...

As a parent who has been known to take her kids to three storytimes a week (yes, I'm a bit of a fanatic), I really liked themed storytimes. The crazier the better. My son's favorite so far was all about superheroes. But the next week, a day at the beach was a hit too. so, yes, themed for me!

Melwyk said...

I always use themes, although I don't stick to them fanatically and especially when trying to find songs and rhymes (as Jennifer has noted, you can end up with some dumb songs!) I find it easier to plan for and also to come up with a craft on the theme -- I do preschool ages so we always have a craft. Your point about stretching a little and using non-fiction and/or displays of extra books is a good one; that always adds to the storytime.

Anonymous said...

I am a fan of themed storytimes. During the summer reading program, we plan out all the themed storytimes, and give the list to the parents. That way, parents and kids can decide which storytimes they want to go to. For example, yesterday I did one about ducks. I had some kids who came in with their stuffed ducks because they were so excited. Like others, I don't plan my songs and fingerplays for the themes, unless I find a really cool one. During the year, I also use themes to plan my storytimes out. They are usually very simple and I try to alternate a concept theme with a fun theme every other week. So, a Manners storytime will be followed by a Dinosaur storytime. But, I will include books in my themed storytimes even if they don't fit the theme, because they are too cute not to read, like Rhyming Dust Bunnies.

sarah said...

I do themes, because my story hour has books along with a craft. Its nice if I can make them go together, even if it's only loosely.

Lisa Jenn said...

I generally do themes, too, but it's more for me than for the kids. As others have said, it helps me focus when choosing books, songs, rhymes, craft... I keep my themes pretty loose and/or on popular topics so that I generally don't have trouble finding enough books (usually 3 per half-hour storytime). I loosen up in the summer when I do storytime in the park; then it's much more important that the book be a great read-aloud with bold pictures.

Librarian Mommy said...

This is an interesting discussion... As a former school librarian - themes were always done as part of a "library lesson". Now that I am in a public library I'm thinking a little differently on theme storytimes. I agree with people who say themes are good with craft projects. I also think themes work better with older children. I have an "all ages" storytime and I tend to do what I want - sometimes themes or sometimes just great age appropriate read alouds and songs. For planning purposes - themes are easier to keep track of.

Kelly Jensen said...

(New commenter here!)

I read a blog that now I see I've failed to save. Her method for story time was pretty genius: she used the letters of the alphabet. Assuming you do one storytime a week, you'd do one week with "A" themes, the next with "B," and so forth. Then when you get to "Z," you just start at A again. That way you have a "theme," but you don't have to strain for one since you can combine your Chickens with your Chocolate.

Abby said...

Kelly, welcome! Thanks for joining the discussion! I wonder if you're talking about MotherReader's ABC Storytime posts? I love them, too, and you're right - that's a creative way to have a theme that can be very flexible!

GreenBeanTeenQueen said...

We do themes in our storytimes, and when I used to do tween town, I would do a theme. I even use a main theme for my teen night. Not that the teens (or kids) notice but it helps me get an idea of what kind of trivia game to have, or an easy craft or activity. For storytimes I think it makes it easy to plan and we have theme tubs that have set books, games, etc. to use for when you're running low on budget/ideas/steam. Those really help.

Kelly Jensen said...

That's the exact one, Abby! I'm not a children's librarian but I think that ya'll have a lot of credit coming for coming up with innovative ideas all the time. I think it helps everyone in the library, really; it pushes us all to think outside the box OR to think of a way to work within the box without getting bored!

Jennie said...

I tend to do themes for my 2-3 and 3-5 years old storytime. Running a keyword search for my theme brings new books to my attention all the time. It also makes it easier to narrow books. That said, sometimes the theme is "books Miss Jennie feels like reading today."

Themes should be flexible. One of my coworkers doesn't use themes for his evening storytime but instead has a structure--one classic, one new, one bedtime book. I can't do a theme for baby storytime. I just can't make it work. So I don't.

Frankly, I'm a fan of whatever helps the librarian give the best storytime he or she can give.

Anonymous said...

I did theme-based storytimes for quite a number of years, but finally I realized that putting them together was kind of stressing me out and that I didn't have to. So I was pretty happy to give them up. Sometimes I'll do theme-light, which means maybe I have a few interconnected stories in a storytime, or we'll do special event one-shot storytime sessions around a theme (Teddy Bear Picnic or Christmas or whatever). Part of this is just personality--I'm not much of a structure person. It also seems to me that most preschools and schools work a lot around themes, and I like the idea of making our public library storytimes distinct. Another thought I have sometimes--and this is more a concern to me with something big like summer reading than a half-hour storytime--is that there are bound to be kids in your storytime who don't click with particular themes.