Friday, October 29, 2010

storytime success, more or less

(If you count the number of people present, that is: 27!)

Our first French storytime at the Lafayette Library made me happy. A room full of parents and kids, all gathered because they wanted to hear stories and songs in French. There clearly is a need for something like this in this area!

The kids ranged in age from 1 to 10, which was much wider than we had expected. On the other hand, we deliberately scheduled it after school hours, so perhaps we shouldn't have been surprised to see elementary schoolers there. And since we'd publicized it heavily at the Monday morning French playgroup in Boulder, it makes sense that toddlers and their parents showed up too.

Some of the librarians have mentioned to me that they find planning for the all-ages storytimes very challenging, because it is nearly impossible to find materials that appeal to and are appropriate for toddlers, fifth graders, and everyone in between. I so understand that now! It didn't help that the older boys at our French storytime were more interested in chatting with each other and comparing their rubber band bracelets, and unfortunately, they were sitting in the front, so they disrupted everyone. (I had never chastized a misbehaving French child in front of his mother before that day!)

I was anxious about co-leading the storytime, especially when the room started to fill up with Real French People. I would turn to my cohort Delphine and point to a family that had just entered and ask if she knew them. And usually she didn't! At least half of the attendees were strangers to us. When we went around the room to do introductions, it sounded like just about everyone was a native speaker of French--maybe two other American moms (including my sister-in-law, who brought Carl!) plus a nanny for a girl from a French family. Nerve-wracking!

Delphine and I also hadn't planned carefully enough--we had too many CDs, for example, with too many different versions of the songs and rhymes, without choosing ahead of time which one to play. It took a while to cue up the CDs when really we probably should have just sung a cappella. (I can't really carry a tune, but maybe that doesn't really matter when singing in a group.) She also had brought a portable DVD player to show a video of one of the songs, but that also took a couple of minutes to set up, and then there were too many kids for them all to see it clearly.

We also didn't realize how long it would all take. We were aiming for 20-25 minutes, but it was more like 40 by the end, and that's with dropping one of the stories I had planned on reading! The first book took ten minutes, which now we know is too long. We had also hoped to play a game, but even if we had had time, it would have been impossible with so many children.

So what went well, then? The parents and some of the kids joined in on the songs. Some of the kids paid attention to the books, too. And I felt like the reading and the rhymes that I led worked. (My extemporaneous speaking, on the other hand, not so smooth--blame the nerves.)

Picking a theme for the storytime also turned out to be a good idea. Given the recent change in season and temperature, we chose "autumn and forests" as our theme. We did a few songs and rhymes, like "123 je vais dans les bois" and "Dans sa maison un grand cerf" (which has gestures to accompany it), plus two of Delphine's stories whose titles I don't remember because I was focusing on keeping Griffin (and my nerves) quiet, and also a nonfiction book about how a cherry tree changes from season to season. It served as a springboard to talking about what happens in the different seasons--the kids answered my questions and offered examples. That was cool. (Especially when I showed the picture of the cherry tree at the end of the summer and asked who or what had eaten all the cherries--according to the book, it was "les oiseaux," the birds, but according to Griffin, who answered with confidence, it was "Papa"!)

We also decided on two songs that we would include in each session: "Dans la foret lointaine" for the opening (because it concerns a "coucou," a cuckoo, which is also a way to say "hi" in French) and "Ainsi font font font les petites marionnettes" because it concludes with the line "et puis s'en vont" ("and then go away"). We want the attendees to know that they can expect each meeting to begin and end in a familiar way--that helps them transition from their daily day to this special French hour.

So with the conclusion of our first French storytime, Griffin and I have now transitioned into another regular activity in French, which will be si bon for the both of us!


  1. I am sure that the areas that you felt were not that great went much better than you thought. It sounds like you got so many things "right" with good responses too! Best wishes to you! Kerri

  2. Hi Sarah,
    I've been so looking forward to reading your post on your first storytime session. Our web was really slow on the weekend and I had to wait till today for it to pick up. Congratulations! Sounds like you guys were really ambitious. But well done on getting 27 people there. How exciting. I think your French will grow with the session. And your experience on what works and what doesn't. Did you get a feeling for whether other parents were interested in reading out loud? As for improv
    in French, know the feeling. I have the same issue going to french playgroup. But I've realised that I can predict what we will talk about so am going to prepare using French websites for parents. Would there be French people reading stories on Youtube that you could access and model off? Anyway, it must have been nice to have Griffin putting his two cents in as well. Good on you! You are inspiring.

  3. Thanks, Kerri and Lalou! So far, only one person has taken us up on our request to host a future session--she's going to help my cohort when I'm out of town for our next one.

    I will definitely look for French storytimes on YouTube (and lacking that, just adults reading children's books aloud)--fantastic idea!

  4. Sounds like it was a great success! Thanks for sharing what worked and didn't. I've found that in my little spanish class (it's for two sisters) singing songs with music doesn't really work either. They are usually too fast. So we just do a cappella and they don't care that I can't sing.

    But great tips, and I'm looking forward to hearing how the next one goes!


  5. Congrats!! It sounds great - even if there were a few hickups. And if I loved anywhere near you, you'd have two extra kids at your story time :)

  6. @smashedpea--Oh, do come visit, you'd love it here! ;)

    @Susan--You make an excellent argument for not bothering with CDs during the storytime--it *is* nice to be able to set the tempo to something that the children can sing along to comfortably.

  7. So glad to get the re-cap of how it went! Success! Yay!

    Your description reminded me of my initial days of teaching, though, lol. Yeah, there is always a learning curve (for the teacher!) when it comes to planning and activities and so on. An all-ages group would be *very* tough to plan for, so kudos on trying. :)

  8. I think you did great ! I would have loved it ! You are so passionate and this is so wonderful to see. Thank you so much for sharing your experience and linking up to the French Obsession party :)