From Winter 2021 to Spring 2022, Cheshire East Libraries undertook a review of Storytime session provision across all libraries in the authority. The return to in-person activities post COVID-19 made this an excellent time to look at Storytime sessions.
From Winter 2021 to Spring 2022, Cheshire East Libraries undertook a review of Storytime session provision across all libraries in the authority. The return to in-person activities post COVID-19 made this an excellent time to look at Storytime sessions; libraries were restarting children’s activities, promoting them to new audiences of parents and children who in many cases were either new to libraries or who had not used them for some time due to Lockdown and restrictions. In addition, there was increased awareness across libraries and the Local Authorities of the impact of COVID-19 restrictions on babies and young children, particularly concerning School Readiness, Speech and Language development and socialisation.
In addition, libraries in Cheshire East were also involved in the BookTrust Storytime initiative, piloting interactive Storytimes including craft activities using resources from the scheme. As a result, this made for an ideal time to review Storytime provision across Cheshire East Libraries, in terms of the number of libraries running weekly Storytimes and in the content of the sessions.
The aims of the review and training were:
- for all Cheshire East Libraries to run a weekly Storytime session for under fives and their parents/ carers
- to provide consistent quality and content across all libraries
- to empower staff to run interactive Storytimes and to know where to find resources to support this.
To achieve our aims of providing quality and content at Storytime sessions, we approached Cheshire East Chatters, an initiative led by two Specialist Speech and Language Therapists and the Early Start Team in Cheshire East which provides support for families with their children’s speech and language development, as well as training for Early Years Practitioners. In 2019 we had run a similar review of Rhymetimes in Cheshire East Libraries, in conjunction with Cheshire East Chatters, and with the awareness of the impact of Covid restrictions on parents and children’s communication development, it was particularly important to include them in our Storytime training.
With Rhymetime training we found that Speech and Language Therapists were able to provide key information as to the benefits of rhymes, such as singing face-to-face rhymes, as well as information for parents about sharing books with children that were both useful and empowering for library staff. It was hoped that including speech and language therapists in the Storytime training as well would help fulfil our aims of providing consistent quality in our Storytimes and empower our staff by raising their skills and awareness. Librarians would be able to model and share key messages and top tips around parent-child interaction, leading to improved outcomes for children. These messages are also promoted throughout Cheshire East in Children’s Centres, early years’ settings, and through Health Visitor contacts, thus ensuring a consistent approach across the region.
During the Autumn of 2021, two Specialist Librarians and the Cheshire East Chatters Speech and Language Therapists visited Storytime sessions at several Cheshire East Libraries with the aim of reviewing current practice and surveying the parents and carers attending. This helped to shape the content of the training session. The training was initially timetabled for January and February of 2022 but was postponed until late February due to increased risks of COVID-19, instead taking place through February and March 2022. Four half-day training sessions were run, attended by a total 50 members of library staff from a variety of roles including Library Assistants, Librarians and Apprentices.
The ethos of the training was to empower library staff to deliver interactive Storytimes and to feel confident about the reasons for the change so they could model and share key messages with families; as such, the content of the sessions included information about the importance of interactive reading, as well as techniques and strategies to achieve interactive reading, including skills that could be modelled for parents and methods that would work in a library setting. Staff were invited to bring stories they had used for Storytime sessions with them and were encouraged through group activities to put their learning into practice, demonstrating how they would present these books in a way that supported children to interact and fully participate in the sessions. This included how to choose suitable books, as well as ways of sharing stories (for example following the child’s lead, modelling language, waiting for children to take their turn in the interaction) and how to bring books to life and support vocabulary development through simple rhymes and activities such as crafts or finger puppets.
As the training was completed at the end of March 2022, libraries have not yet been able to assess its impact for parents and children; this will be an ongoing process which will include peer to peer assessment of the content of Storytime sessions using checklists, as well as surveying parents/carers attending. We will also be asking staff for feedback about the longer-term benefits of the training for them.
Feedback from staff at the training sessions showed that they felt the training had given them more confidence to deliver Storytimes and improved their understanding of the benefits of Storytimes for both parents and children. Staff felt that the training had increased their awareness of the importance of Storytimes for supporting the development of communication skills; they felt that the training had increased their general awareness of speech and language development, but also that they had gained specific skills to help them plan and deliver Storytimes to support this.
When asked what they had found the most helpful, most staff mentioned the speech and language therapists:
I found the speech therapist information really helpful, especially with ideas of how to read a story in a different way, [I] will certainly attempt to use the techniques going forward.
“I found the section with the speech and language therapist very useful – it reinforces why we should be running these events and there were some surprising statistics and information.”
“I found the whole day very informative- I particular [sic] enjoyed the segment from the speech therapist as this was all new to me.”
The session run by the Speech Therapist was insightful. This helped me understand how the children learn and benefit from Storytime and how children communicate verbally and non-verbally.
“Listening to the language therapist and her techniques was useful”
Libraries have already been putting the skills from the training in use in Storytime sessions, and libraries which did not previously run a weekly Storytime are setting one up in line with the guidelines and practices from the training.
How is the New Approach Being Sustained?
The project will be sustained by regular reviewing of Storytimes in libraries, using a checklist based on the key messages covered in the training. The resources from the training are available on the Cheshire East Libraries Sharepoint site, accessible to all staff, enabling information to be cascaded to staff who were not able to attend the training and to be used to train new staff for Storytimes. The resources include all presentations from the training, as well as sample plans and suggested books, activities, and crafts. Staff are also actively encouraged to add to these resources, using the site as a forum to share new ideas; a collaborative approach even though Cheshire East is such a large geographical area.
Storytimes are also being rebranded to ensure that our marketing effectively communicates their content to parents and carers, specifically their suitability for active, enthusiastic children and toddlers. This includes the use of a new logo, a new name for the sessions ‘Stories and Songs’ and a friendly description to help parents to know what to expect. We are keen to convey that these are sessions where children will not be shushed or expected to sit passively and listen for a full half hour, but rather that they are fun and informal, where children and parents have the opportunity to join in and be actively involved. We are aiming to reduce the fear around reading that some parents have, so that they can feel empowered to share stories with their children at home.
Library staff have been empowered by the training, and the opportunity to engage with Cheshire East Chatters has been invaluable. As a result of the training the cross-promotion of resources for parents and children has increased; libraries are now sharing information about the sessions run by Cheshire East Chatters and displaying relevant information about children’s communication development. There are also plans for libraries to link in with the local Early Language Lead networks to share information and increase awareness of the libraries’ offer in Cheshire East with early years practitioners.
Even for staff who were already employing interactive storytelling techniques there have been benefits in discovering new book suggestions and new methods for encouraging interaction in Storytimes.