Out of the Ordinary: Storytime in the Park

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It’s been a while since I’ve posted about storytime, and that’s because it’s been a while since I’ve done one, even virtually. Our library system opted to hold in-person camps over the summer, to help offset some of the learning loss from the pandemic, so most of our other kids programs were put on hold. But now we are moving into a new phase of holding outdoor storytimes.

Unfortunately, neither of the libraries where I work have an outdoor space suitable for a large, socially-distanced storytime, but this opened up the opportunity to partner with our County and City parks. I was excited to be able to lead a series of Outdoor Musical Storytimes in a picnic area at San Pedro Valley Park, one of my favorite places. We had our first one earlier this week.

It was so great to see all of the families in person. Several of my regular parents showed up with babies or toddlers who had been born during the shutdown. We asked that everyone bring a blanket or seating for their family, and that everyone over the age of 2 wear a mask (we had extra adult and kids masks on hand just in case, but everyone seemed to already have one).

Since sound is an issue outdoors, I brought our branch karaoke machine and a mic on a stand, but sadly the karaoke machine battery died midway through. Before that though, I was having a good time playing kids songs from my phone while families settled in, and using sound effects from Spotify (like quail sounds) to go along with my books. Once it died, I had to just be loud.

I brought two copies of each book: one for me to read from at the front of the group, and one for a coworker to walk around with, so the kids had a chance to see the pictures up close. Weirdly, even though I only read three books (instead of my usual four), the storytime ran for 40 minutes, which was longer than I had intended.

Here’s what we did:

BOOKS:

Queenie Quail Can’t Keep Up by Jane Whittingham; illustrated by Emma Pedersen

One thing I’m excited to do with this storytime series is introduce kids to the wildlife they might see in the park. And San Pedro Valley Park has LOTS of quail. This is an adorable book about a young quail who always falls behind her large family, because she often stops to look at treasures along the way. The family is constantly fussing at her to keep up, until one day her curiosity saves them from a sneaky cat. The repeated “bob, bob, bobbing” and “hurry, hurry, hurrying” throughout the book were an easy way to keep the kids moving and engaged.

I Ain’t Gonna Paint No More by Karen Beaumont and David Catrow

One of my very favorite picture books to read/sing aloud, this parody of the folk song It Ain’t Gonna Rain No More tells the story of a kid who just can’t help painting different parts of his body, even after his mother tells him not to. There is always a page break before each body part, allowing the kids to guess what it is based on the rhyme (“I see some red, so I paint my…head”), and they enjoy miming painting their own bodies. (In the “before times,” I used to hand out play scarves for the kids to use as paintbrushes). Always a hit!

It’s a Tiger by David LaRochelle; illustrated by Jeremy Tankard

Another favorite read-aloud, this book takes readers on an adventure through the jungle and over the sea, where a tiger suddenly appears in the most unlikely places. The book includes lots of opportunities for kids to run in place or pretend to climb a ladder, as well as to yell out “Tiger!” on every other page.

SONGS:

Put Your Mask on Your Face (to the tune of If You’re Happy and You Know It)

My coworker Adrienne Gass came up with this song, which is an easy reminder to throw in at the beginning of storytime:

Put your mask on your face, on your face,
Put your mask on your face, on your face,
Put your mask on your face,
Not on your toes or out in space!
Put your mask on your face, on your face.

Put Your Finger In the Air by Woody Guthrie (Here’s a link to a YouTube performance by Miss Nina, which uses different lyrics than I do, but basically the same tune)

This was my traditional opening song for musical storytime, which I inherited from my former coworker Mike Eppley. It’s fun to come up with different verses each time, and also to ask participants if they know how to count to three in different languages (we usually go through five or six different suggestions, depending on the crowd).

Put your finger in the air, in the air,
Put your finger in the air, in the air,
Put your finger in the air,
And now hide it in your hair,
Put your finger in the air, in the air.

Put your finger on your nose…
And now see how long it grows!…(mime making your nose grow long, and then short again)

Put your finger on your knee…
And now can you count to three?…1,2,3 (uno, dos, tres; un, deux, trois, etc.)

Point your finger at the ground…
And now make a spooky sound!…

Put your fingers all together, all together… (clap)
We we will all be friends forever!

Little Bird

A traditional folk song. I played it on the ukulele (chords and lyrics below), and asked the kids to suggest different birds for each verse. We sang “Owl, Owl, fly through my window,” and “Chickadee, Chickadee…”

C
Little Bird, Little Bird,
C
Fly through my window.
G7
Little Bird, Little Bird,
G7
Fly through my window.
C
Little Bird, Little Bird,
C
Fly through my window.
G7                       C
Find molasses candy.

Chorus:
G7
Fly through my window, my sugar lump!
C                            G7            C
Fly through my window, my sugar lump!
G7                        C
Find molasses candy!

Jay bird, Jay bird, fly through my window…etc…

Chorus

Repeat the verse and chorus, asking kids for the names of different birds (robin, parrot, etc.) to sing in place of “Little Bird” each time.

Two Little Blackbirds

One of my favorite songs/fingerplays. I usually sing it a cappella, so I can do the hand motions.  Click on the triangle to hear how it goes:

Two little blackbirds sitting on a hill, (Hold up both thumbs)
One named Jack, and the other named Jill.
Fly away, Jack! (Put one thumb behind your back)
Fly away, Jill! (Put the other thumb behind your back)
Come back, Jack! (Bring the first thumb out in front).
Come back, Jill! (Bring the second thumb out in the front).

Two little blackbirds sitting on a cloud,
One was quiet, and the other was loud (I make my voice as loud and obnoxious as possible each time I sing the word “Loud!”)
Fly away, Quiet!
Fly away, Loud!
Come back, Quiet!
Come back, Loud!

Two little blackbirds sitting in the snow.
One flew fast!
And the other f-l-e-w s-l-o-w!…

Two little blackbirds sitting on a gate.
One was early,
And the other was…late!…  (I like to drag the pauses out as long as possible before saying “Late!” until the kids are all yelling it out.)

Bringing Home a Baby Bumblebee

For this one, I asked the kids what animals they might find at the park, and we came up with our own verses. We had “I’m bringing home a baby raccoon,/ Won’t my Mommy fly off to the moon?” and “I’m bringing home a baby bunny,/Won’t my Mommy really think that’s funny?”


I’m [C] bringing home a [F] baby [C]bumblebee.
[G7] Won’t my mommy be so proud of me?
‘Cause I’m [C] bringing home a [F] baby [C] bumblebee.
[G7 ]Ouch! It stung me!

For the last two songs, I handed out shakers, and the kids played along to Going to the Zoo by Tom Paxton and Under a Shady Tree by Laurie Berkner (I’m planning to make that my ending song for the whole series, since it fits so well with our outdoor setting).

STAY AND PLAY: Scavenger Hunt

As a final activity for families to do on their own, I handed out small pencils and a scavenger hunt, featuring things that could be easily found near the picnic area. We also passed out stickers as a memento.

Have you performed or attended any outdoor storytimes? If you have any recommendations for things that worked well, please leave them in the comments.