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Storytime in the Time of Coronavirus

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.

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