Wednesday, February 20, 2013

stumbling through storytime

Gwyneth chooses a chapter book in our newly-renovated library
Regular readers of "Bringing up Baby Bilingual" might have noticed that I haven't mentioned our French storytime at the public library for a loooooong time.  This can be attributed to the following factors:

1.  For quite a few months after Gwyneth's arrival, I lost the ability to carefully plan storytimes in my second language, carry them out, take photos of all the books, find links to all the song lyrics, and then write about them at length.  I was proud of myself simply for reading some stories and singing some songs in French in front of other people!

2.  Two mamans who took turns leading the storytime with me moved away last summer, and another one's work schedule changed.  Lately it's been just moi.  (More work = less blogging!)

3.  The library was closed for nearly two months in fall 2012 for major renovations, and then storytimes didn't start up again right away, so we lost momentum (and I lost the habit of blogging about them).

Here's the biggest change:

Our storytime is now an official part of the library's offerings (rather than a word-of-mouth gathering), which, don't get me wrong, is exciting and empowering--but this also means we're seeing new faces, most of whom don't actually speak French!  After a couple of sessions where Griffin was the only one answering my questions and singing the songs, where I had to revise my "lesson plan" on the fly since none of the other children would understand much of the stories, I have realized that I need to simplify, simplify, simplify, and also make sure to alternate every book with a physical activity to keep the kids from getting bored.

Typically, librarians interact with the children at storytimes by asking questions about the books, asking kids questions about themselves, encouraging them to join in by reciting words or phrases that are repeated in the books, or by making the appropriate animal sounds and vehicle noises, or by filling in the rhyming words at the end of sentences.

I'm discovering, though, that this sort of interaction between the reader and the listeners requires that the listeners be able to follow the story, and if most of the listeners and their parents don't understand French, then they give me blank stares instead of "cocorico"s and "vroum"s!

So now, the books are short, the puppets numerous, and we get up and dance to French songs instead of singing them ourselves!

a typical French storytime (2011)
I'm also doing my very best not to take it personally that few of our regulars come any more.  As children grow up, the older siblings get bored at storytime, so the families plan other activities that everyone can enjoy.  As new babies join the families, their nap routines become paramount--and their afternoon naps tend to fall right in the middle of storytime.  As children start attending school, the parents have to work around the school and bus schedule, which makes it hard for some to get to storytime on time, especially if they're coming from Boulder (20+ minute drive).

So yes, things change, which is what's supposed to happen, yes.  But I do miss my friends who moved away; I miss being able to attend French storytime--watching and listening and learning and holding my children on my lap--instead of leading it all the time.

my favorite kind of storytime


  1. I was the facilitator of a French playgroup/storytime for two years. I took over from another woman, a native of Québec, but the program was poorly advertised and after changing the day/time, we lost most of our families. Now, the program has been cancelled. It was realy hard. What started as a storytime for French families soon became a storytime for English families who had an interest in French. Which really changed the way I had to plan and execute my activities. I was acually kind of relieved when it was cancelled...

    1. Hi S! Was the storytime something that took place at your school, or was it out in the community? What sorts of things did you do when you were the coordinator?

      I'm wondering if I should make some changes to ours--in fact, considering making it more playgroup-y so that the children aren't expected to sit and listen to something most of them don't understand most of. Since we meet twice a month, maybe focus on stories and songs for one session, then do games and toys and music in the second?

      But yeah, the combo of insufficient advertising and changing days is no good for free programs. I can see why you were glad not to have to lead the group any more!

  2. Oh, but here's a comment from a mom with a monolingual (English) kid--she has told me on two separate occasions that when she asks her five-year-old if he wants to go to French storytime, his face lights up and he always says yes, which isn't the case for some of his other afterschool activities. Youpi!

  3. It occurs to me that recently our French playgroup on Monday mornings has been almost as poorly attended as storytime lately--usually just two or three families present. Also, the last two Spanish-English bilingual storytimes (which occur once a month) at our library did not attract many participants either.

    Maybe this time of the year is just generally low-energy for kids' language activities. A lull now--but it may perk up again.