Baby Storytime: Large Crowds

Our storytime crowds are large. Often, they are very large.

The above picture was a particularly busy day–possibly the busiest storytime we’ve had. That is a picture of toddler storytime (presented by my coworker)–we had 120 people come to storytime that day.

On an average week, each of our baby and toddler storytimes see somewhere between 40-100 visitors (this includes all people, so babies, siblings, and adults). Most of the time, our busier baby storytime has 60-80 attendees. Last week, I presented to a group of 111 visitors, with most children between 12-18 months.

Large crowds mean approaching storytime differently. Some immediate changes:

  • All of those amazing Jbrary name songs are definitely not happening.
  • Parachute play isn’t something I’ve ever been able to consider.
  • My manipulative options are limited, as I have to make sure we have enough to give every child an item (60+). Giving an item to every adult and child typically isn’t an option.
  • Activities have to focus on those larger babies and young toddlers, as they are the loud, active majority in the room.

While large crowds can feel like a struggle, remember that large crowds are actually AWESOME. Yes, they present problems and limitations, but large crowds mean your library is doing something right. Word of mouth is the best marketing tool, and someone, somewhere is talking about your program and telling others to come check it out. For us, the larger the storytime crowd, the higher percentage we have of first time visitors. We have the opportunity to turn all of those first-timers into lifelong users.

My library has talked about ways to limit these crowds. The most consistent response is a ticketing or reservation system. To me, these kinds of systems create barriers, especially to new patrons and patrons who speak a language other than English (the very patrons we need to be reaching the most). The patrons that understand and use reservation systems are our power users. They know us, they love us, they will vote for us in levies…but they are also almost always the families that are already reading aloud at home, who are also power users at nearby libraries, who attend anywhere from 3-7 storytimes a week in the surrounding communities. Our power users will continue to come to the library because they will understand they have to arrive early.

But that new family, that mom who might be coming out with her children for the first time in months, who arrives 10 minutes late because it was a challenge to get two kids under the age three out of the house on time, just got turned away at the door because she didn’t get to the library fifteen minutes before the program. All she remembers from her visit to the library is that she put in a ton of extra, exhausting work to get to there, and then the library told her she couldn’t even attend the program she was excited about. Her and her kids are left out. They leave and, very likely, don’t come back.

Tips for Large Crowds

I am no expert at handling large crowds, but there are some things that I’ve learned from experience.

You are doing better than you think.

After some of these extremely busy storytimes, I talk to parents who praise my classroom management skills and how well I handle the crowds. This often makes me feel a little odd because I tend to have these conversations the most when I feel like something was a complete mess. Parents don’t hear your inner maybe-not-so-nice words when you realize that your crowd is way over fire code, and this is the week you decided to try that new book whose rhythm you don’t quite have down.

Don’t panic.

Large crowds at baby storytimes in particular are not quite so bad because you don’t really have children attending without adults (like you might at preschool) and generally adults are a bit more engaged with their tiny children. The number of other adults in the room are an asset. It will all work out.

Adjust your plan accordingly.

I always have a powerpoint template with the words of rhymes, songs, books, and more. While this is very helpful at getting adults involved in the program, it can force me to a more strict structure than I would like when these surprise super-sized crowds appear.

If you are not using a powerpoint or similar tool that has your structure on display for everyone to see, you have the freedom to adjust what you want to do and what you want to skip.

If you are using a powerpoint–you still have that freedom. I skip slides every week. In weeks where we have very large crowds, that new rhyme I wanted to try for the first time that I know no parent in the room will be familiar with is just not happening. You can do more than skip slides though. The babies have no idea what is on the screen, and the adults are well aware that your crowd is extra large. Tell them that the powerpoint shows You Are New by Lucy Knisley, but due to our crowd size, we are going to sing Babies on the Bus by Karen Katz as a group instead. The parents get it, they don’t judge you, and they appreciate your flexibility. This isn’t that group of preschoolers who will ask 50 questions about why the book you are holding is not the book on the screen behind you.

If your crowd is active, use your body as a physical deterrent or barrier.

This is a common classroom management technique. At the beginning of my program, I tell everyone that I expect there to be movement during this program and that is fantastic. Older babies and toddlers are going to wander around the room, and I don’t expect parents to hold them down in their laps during storytime. I do ask, though, if kids start to try to crawl under my materials table, please redirect them for their own safety.

Making an announcement is often all it takes, but sometimes there is that active little one with an adult who isn’t paying attention, or it is just hard for an adult to make their way to the front of the room when there are 50 people between them and their toddler.

Last week, I had an extra energetic little one who was determined to belly crawl over two storage tubs underneath a table to reach the place I stashed puppets after using them. I am not sure where the adult was, but the easiest way to stop this from happening was to physically stand in front of the tubs until he got bored and wandered elsewhere. Yes, I am blocking the powerpoint for a few minutes, but the whole situation defused without me having to stop the storytime or say a word.

Aim for activities that appeal to the older end of your audience.

Our baby storytimes are designed for ages 0-24 months. We offer a lapsit for our prewalkers, but we allow everyone to attend out standard storytimes, so they have an option that fits their schedule.

Most of my attendees are about 18-24 months. These babies are essentially toddlers. They waddle, run, jump, laugh, sometimes talk, have a ferocious strength that lets them snatch puppets off your hand, and have no desire to sit still for 20-30 minutes.

My activities, and songs in particular, are often active to interest these older babies. There are no lullabies in my baby storytimes because there is never a moment where the audience is quiet and wants to rock or sway.

I do try to select activities that can be easily adapted across developmental abilities. I show a few ways to do a rhyme or adapt a song before starting it as a group. Slowly, Slowly is one of my favorites that is so easy to adapt to all abilities:

For the smallest babies (really any age), parents can crawl their fingers over the child slowly and then fast. Babies sitting on their own can be bounced at different speeds. Walkers can jump along.

Stand tall and hold everything up high.

Older babies, like toddlers, like to explore and they like to grab everything. We have a large rolling easel that has a flannelboard on one side. The whole structure is maybe 4 feet tall, meaning that any flannel pieces placed on it can be easily reached by small hands.

If you have a large crowd, stand, don’t sit. Hold books high. Have a mobile flannelboard (or cookie sheet for magnets). Hold it at least even with your head. Hold puppets high. This helps everyone see, but it also means that things aren’t getting snatched out of your hands.

Remove…everything.

Look at your space. Sit on the floor. What items are loose? What catches your eye? Are there curtains that would be great for hiding behind? Does that large rolling easel have appealing, brightly colored bars at the bottom that are perfect to climb in? Are those puppets peaking out from under the table? Is that bright red mobile speaker right at eye level?

Carefully look at your space and remove things that could become mass baby distractions. Once one baby notices something, they all soon follow. Babies on the Bus is never as interesting as that curtain another baby is waving frantically in the air.


I am by no means an expert at large crowds, and I know our library is not the only place to receive them. How do you handle them? I’d love to hear your tips in the comments!

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: