I came to my current school library job from a public library setting. The friend who trained me to plan and conduct preschool story times told me to always, always include songs and rhymes in between the books to keep the kids engaged and to keep them from getting too antsy. So, recognizing that she was much wiser and a much better storyteller than I was, (Seriously, she’s still the best I’ve ever seen)I took her advice.
Months later, when I got my current job, I brought all of my public library antics with me. The librarian at this school before me was very calm and quiet. She read the kids stories, checked their books out and then had them sit very quietly and read, so when I showed up and wanted to sing and dance, some of the teachers looked at me like I was nuts, some even told me that they thought I was going to lose control over the class (maybe I did a few times, but I always got it back!)From K3-K5 we start every story time off with Raffi’s “Shake My Sillies Out”, and we do lots of songs and flannel board activities in between the stories.
This summer, Ashley, my wife attended some of my summer story time sessions for the students with my two kids (my son is three and my daughter is 20 months). A few weeks after the first session, on Father’s day, I opened my Father’s Day gifts. I got a Harry Potter marauder’s map coffee mug and a blue giraffe ukelele.
Both of these gifts were really thoughtful and unexpected. I can usually guess what I’m going to get (This time, I thought it might be the new Outlander novel since it had just been released) but this year I honestly had no clue. I must have looked surprised because my wife laughed and told me that she thought that I could learn how to play it over the summer, and then I could use it in my preschool story times when school started. I admit, I was a bit doubtful. I loved the ukelele, but I just didn’t know if I was ever going to be good enough to play in front of my students.
At first, my fears seemed well-founded. I was terrible. I couldn’t switch between chords very well (G gave me a lot of trouble) and I just couldn’t get the strumming right. I was getting discouraged, and didn’t think there was any way that I would be ready by the time school started in early August.
I decided to try playing with a very thin pick, and that helped out with the strumming some, but I was still really slow switching back and forth between the chords. I gave up trying to learn children’s songs for story time, and just had fun with it. I learned some pop songs (even some R & B songs) and just played for fun. One night, I was playing around, and I realized that I was actually switching between all of the chords, even G without any trouble. Somehow, it had just worked itself out. That got me excited, so I switched back to learning some children’s songs, and I found that they came much easier.
School started, and I still wasn’t brave enough to bust out the uke that first week. I just didn’t feel confident enough to “preform.” My wife went out of town with the kids, and I went book shopping to alleviate some of the boredom. One of the books I picked out was the new Eric Litwin book, The Nuts: Bedtime at the Nut House. I read it to myself, and loved it. Then I went to Litwin’s website, and saw that he had some songs that went along with the book. One of them was “If You’re Nutty and You Know it.” It’s basically, “If You’re Happy and You Know It” but with nuts. I already knew “If You’re Happy and You Know it” on the uke, and thought I had finally found a way to introduce the uke at story times. So, the second full week of school, I read the book and played the song for the K3, K4 and K5. I was really nervous, but it went ok. It really wasn’t that big of a change to the kids. We were already singing songs every week, so it didn’t seem like big of a deal to them.
The next week, I added a bit more ukelele. I did “Head and Shoulders Knees and Toes” for the K3 and K4, a song we had done a million times before a cappella and “Five Green and Speckled Frogs” for K5, and I even started doing “Shake My Sillies Out” on the uke instead of playing the Raffi recording for a few of the classes.
Overall, I’ve been really pleased with the uke addition. It adds a bit to the overall story time experience. My only problems so far have been leaving the uke at school when I meant to take it home to learn a new song (I had to learn a new one in my office this week and a 5th grader walked in on me) or leaving it at home when I meant to take it to school. I’m still working it all out, but honestly, if I’m still leaving my lunch at home after all these years, I’m probably going to leave the ukulele at home a bunch too. I’ve made so many mistakes playing, but the kids don’t seem to notice. They just like singing. I have a terrible singing voice, but they’re used to that, and they know that if they sing loud enough they can cover my voice up.
Usually, when a K4 class lines up and leaves the library, one or two of the really sweet kids will shout out, “Thanks for reading to us!” as they are leaving. Today, one of the kids smiled really big and yelled. “We had fun! Thanks for playing with us today!” That just made my day. I wasn’t just reading books to them.We were playing together. We sang songs, danced and read some fun books, too. To the kids, the books were just part of the fun, and that’s exactly how I like it. I hoping that they grow up loving to read, without even realizing it.