I’ve had the great joy these last few weeks of pulling together “distanced” storytimes for a few families who could use a half hour of sitting on the couch and letting someone else entertain and interact with the kids. This has been a stretch for me. Though I’m grateful for all of the apps and platforms that allow us to see and talk virtually — during this time, especially — I would not choose to do storytime this way. But, as the Brits say, needs must.
Mostly, I don’t like seeing myself on the screen. (Do I really make those faces? Wave my hands around so much? Does my neck look like that irl, as the kids say?) But with storytime, this objection is quickly overcome. It’s not about me — it’s about the stories. The book is what needs to fill the visual frame for the child/children on the other end. Incidentally, this is surprisingly difficult — keeping the book straight, focused, turning the pages without making everyone on the other end seasick etc. My skills are ever improving. And I’ve been pleasantly surprised, all things considered, with how much I enjoy this way of doing storytime.
Some of my favorite stories to read with kids have very detailed illustrations I now realize. This doesn’t work super great over the airwaves as its hard to view detail over a screen that sometimes freezes, goes out of focus, gets dropped on the other end etc. So I’ve been going through my picturebook library looking for books with larger, simpler pictures. Wide Mouth Frog works better than the Brambly Hedge books, for instance. When I peak around the books with larger illustrations, I see little faces up close, eyes wide and unblinking, scanning the frame — truly, it looks a little odd unless you know what they’re looking at.
By no stretch of the imagination am I a pro at this. I’m not creating videos (with a wonderful assistant who is technologically adept) and posting them. Librarians and teachers are doing a wonderful job of this. I’m working live—because what I like about storytime is the interaction with the kids. And so it’s worth it to me to have this amateur presentation and still be able to talk with them, see their surprise when I turn the page, ask questions and chat a bit, redirect, applaud the morning’s project, view the snack being served on their end, call them back after they go potty etc.
I’ve realized in a new way these last few weeks that reading with kids is about connection. That’s why I enjoy it — and I think it’s why they enjoy it, too. Children crave undivided attention, and let’s face it, our attention is all over the place these days. I feel for parents who are managing distance learning and work and panic and anxiety and details they never would’ve chosen.… Right now we have to connect in different ways. Rather than lament it, I choose to embrace it.
So I commend the practice to you — prop your phone/tablet up or adjust your computer screen, and then open one of these fantastic video apps/programs. Next, grab some books with bold illustrations and give it a try with a little one in your life.
Do NOT worry about it being some version of perfect — it won’t be, and the kids won’t expect it to be. They’ll just be glad to see you! And you’ll share something with the beloved children in your life, give their parents twenty minutes to breathe, and you will finish and find yourself smiling, feeling just a bit better about the distance we need to keep during this time.
This is a made-for-grandparents activity! Keep the connection in this time when you can’t see each other in person. I know grandparents who are doing a nightly bedtime story for their wee ones — huzzah! But if you do not have grandkids (I don’t!) don’t under-estimate the gift of doing a live storytime with other kids in your life in this way — nieces and nephews, neighborhood kids, kiddos from your place of worship…. It’s a win-win-win sort of activity during these challenging and worrying days.