When I visit over 40 boys and girls at the preschool center, for me, story time is a joy—if not a challenge. Although, as soon as my foot lands on the soft, rubbery floor of their gymnasium I remind myself to just have fun, after all, this story time is for preschoolers. Over the years every story time I do has morphed into a version of an “intensive story time.” That means I use research guided type of questions to elicit constant participation from my audience. For kindergartners and older children it works well. I bring a fiction book, a flannel board, a stretching/action song and a nonfiction book on the same subject. We learn a lot while having lots of fun. Preschoolers, however, are much less disciplined, and sometimes in this echo hollow, one of my simple open ended questions can ignite instant chaos. Yes, imagine 20 children answering me all at once, telling their neighbor or their teacher as well, while the other 20 excitedly jump up, hands flying wildly, “Mr. Tim! Mr. Tim! May I tell you something?” It’s only here in this cavernous gymnasium, where I sit on the stage with three long rows of preschoolers siting on the floor, that I find myself “The Librarian of Organized Chaos.”
Sometimes the stories I read lend themselves in such a way that they can actually help me direct the children’s attention. A wonderful example happened just before Thanksgiving with one of my all-time favorite picture books Run, Turkey, Run by Diane Mayr. As I begin to read the story I notice some students fussing in the back row not paying an iota of attention. Well, in the story Turkey is having a bad day. An illustration shows a farm family in their kitchen busily preparing for the big feast. The Turkey peeks in through the window and watches the farmer put on his coat and pick up a burlap bag. I ask the students, “What do you think the farmer is going to do? What should we tell Turkey to do?” “RUN, TURKEY, RUN!” Louder I say, and if only you could hear it! Every teacher in the gymnasium winced and probably eye-rolled to each other, “Here we go again.” But, every preschooler was wide-eyed and now paying much more attention to what was going to happen next in the story. I mean, there were no more side conversations, fussing or fidgeting. You could hear a pin bounce off the rubber floor as I turned the page.
We had fun with that book, but for some reason, probably because I hadn’t looked at the book since last Thanksgiving, I ended the story a couple of pages early. You see, Turkey escapes to the forest to hide—that’s where I stopped the story—where Turkey is safe. When I finish reading a story I remind the students that stories have a beginning, a middle and an end, and we review what we just read. After we did that—and I’m sure the teachers were glad we were no longer shouting, and as I was setting the book down I noticed that there were two more pages. Here the farmer and his family hiked to the forest to look for a Christmas tree and who do they find hiding in the forest? To segue back into the story I asked the kids, “What’s our next big celebration?” Before anyone had a chance to respond, a little girl in the front row jumped to her feet, her little hand reaching for the sky, she shouted, “My birthday!” Every adult in the room laughed. Of course, I agreed with her, and somehow stumbled back into the story. To the chagrin of the teachers we ended up shouting one more time, “Run, Turkey, Run!”
Well, I say to the year 2016—at the top of my lungs, “Run, Turkey, Run!” I’m glad it’s nearly over and I look forward to, and I wish everyone, a Happy New Year!