My #1 tip for increasing engagement in storytime is to use PROP SONGS. A prop is an object that a child can manipulate. There are props for dramatic play, and props for music & movement. I’ll do a post on dramatic play props at a later date, but for right now I’m going to talk about music & movement props and how to use them in storytime.

Props are so much fun to use in storytime! They encourage movement by giving children something concrete to manipulate, which increases engagement and confidence when moving to music. Whether you want to incorporate small props such as bean bags, egg shakers, scarves, rhythm sticks, or large props such as parachutes and stretchy bands - children are always eager to participate in these activities! 

This is an important topic to me, so I’m going to break this down into TWO POSTS: Individual Props (bean bags, egg shakers, scarves, rhythm sticks, etc.) and Group Props (parachutes and stretchy bands.)

Here we go!

INDIVIDUAL PROPS

When I talk about individual props, I’m referring to a prop that a child uses individually. We may move together as a group, but they are able to manipulate their own prop in their own way without affecting the overall success of the activity. Examples of individual props include: bean bags, egg shakers, scarves, rhythm sticks, streamers, bells, tambourines, and maracas.

While props are always a hit with children, sometimes librarians and teachers get a little overwhelmed when it comes to figuring out how exactly to use them (especially if they have large groups.) 

Here are my tips for using individual props in storytime:

  • Pick the right song. This is key! The right song will guide the activity from start to finish, appeal to your group’s vibe (contemporary, traditional, rock, folksy, hip hop etc.) and be the appropriate energy level. You’ll want to consider your group’s overall developmental ability and choose a song that is not too hard, but also not too easy. When working with mixed ages, I recommend gearing the activity toward age 3 or 4 for individual props. 
  • Plan for how to distribute and collect the props. There are many ways to do this! My favorite way is to let kids be as self-directed as possible. For very young children the process of coming up to the front of the room to get a bean bag, selecting which color, going back to their spot, doing the activity, and returning it when the activity is over is a pretty big deal! It requires them to use lots of physical, social, and emotional skills, so it can take some time to build the routine - but it is very rewarding when they master these skills. 

I know other quality storytellers who prefer to have the children stay in their spots, and they go around the group to hand props to the children. This is the safer bet if you think someone might get trampled, but it does take a little longer and can risk derailing the group’s focus. 

I have also personally used what I like to call the drop-off method (popularized by social distancing, thanks Covid) in which children will go ahead and select their props upon entering the space. Their grown-up is “in charge” of the props for the duration of the storytime, then they return them to the baskets when they exit. I’m actually not mad at this method - especially for super large groups. However things can get a little bottlenecked at the beginning and end of storytime, and you need adults who are great at setting boundaries and being “keepers of the props.”

  • Practice the song beforehand. This may sound a bit obvious, but the more familiar you are with the song, the more engaged and present you can be with your littles. No need to stress about memorization, but definitely take time to give yourself a run-down of the movements. It will also make you seem more comfortable and confident if you are familiar with the song. I don’t worry too much about explaining each and every movement to the children beforehand. Some complex songs may warrant a little context before jumping in, but generally if you explain that you will all be listening to the song and it will tell you how to move your prop, the kids will just jump right in. 
  • Have a regulating transition song on deck. As with any exciting activity, children may be a little turnt up when the song ends, but I find that jumping into a short transition song or chant pretty much immediately helps regulate everyone. For very young children, a song that requires physical proximity to the caregiver works very well as it encourages them to get back to their “home base.”
  • Store the props out of reach. We’ve all been there. One precocious toddler notices something colorful, interesting, and in reach. She bolts for the beanbags, then others follow, then the grown-ups wrangle the runaways, tears flow - it’s a whole thing. Don’t be like beginner me. Keep those props up high. 

Here are my favorite songs to use with individual props! These activities promote many learning objectives for littles, including gross and fine motor skills, core strength, listening skills, following instructions, rhythm, coordination, cross lateral movement, basic body part identification, spatial awareness, learning opposites, dynamics, counting, and more.

Bean Bags

Bean Bag Rock by La La Librarian

This is one of my all-time favorite movement activities to do with toddlers and preschoolers! Bean Bag Rock has been around since 1977, and after doing it so many times during storytime, I thought it deserved a good update. We dropped the arrangement down a step so it’s a bit easier to sing, updated the bass line, and even added in some harmony electric guitars! 

Shakin’ by La La Librarian

Shakin’ is a mid-tempo movement song with a 60’s throwback vibe, prominent baseline, guitar solo, and minor chords, which give it a “cool” aesthetic. Kids can use bean bags, shakers, tambourines, scarves, or simply shake! It works for babies all the way up to early elementary-aged kids. 

Bean Bag Jump by Tumble Tots

This is a short one, but it is great for particularly jumpy groups! The arrangement is a bit dated now, but it is still cute.

Pass The Bean Bag by Kimbo Children’s Music

This is a great activity for slightly older children (I’d say 4 and up.) The children pass the bean bag around the circle at different tempos, and you can turn it into a “hot potato” sort of game if you like.

Shakers

I Know A Chicken by Laurie Berkner

THE classic egg shaker song - and for good reason! 

Movin’ and Shakin’ by La La Librarian

This song was inspired by a warm-up game I used to play in theatre class called “Countdown.” It’s a great game for older elementary kids and up, so I wanted to make a version that littles could do too! When the counting starts, have them shake on the side of their body with their dominant hand, then have them move the shaker across their body to shake on the other side. Then back and forth as the numbers get closer together!

Shake Freeze by Little Maestros

This is a great shaker song with a fun, silly arrangement. Everyone loves a freeze dance that also incorporates dynamics! 

La Maraca by Sonia De Los Santos

I LOVE Sonia De Los Santos’ work. She is one of those family artists who I listen to even when my kids aren’t with me. Fabulous songs, fantastic vocals, beautiful arrangements, and great production - she’s got it all. This is a great shaker song in Spanish. It’s a perfect candidate for freestyle movement, OR you could accent the beat with footwork for older students. There is a section with rhythm mirroring, which I really enjoy. 

Scarves

Wiggle It by Koo Koo

These dudes are so great. They have lots of hilarious dance songs, but this one works perfectly as an energizing scarf song. Things may get rowdy!

Rhythm In The Scarves by Johnette Downing

This is one of the best, most intentional scarf songs I’ve ever heard. It really accomplishes A LOT in a short period of time but it is so well-paced it seems easy. I love the mid-tempo, bluesy vibe, vocal performance, and the production on this one. 

Swirly Whirly Scarves by Stephanie Leavell

Stephanie Leavell crafts a beautiful activity with this song. The minor chords, melody, and backing vocals give the song a floating, ethereal quality of almost being suspended in mid-air, just like a scarf tossed up and falling down (which you do several times in the song.)

Blowing in the Wind  by Stephanie Leavell

This one is also really interesting. Like Swirly Whirly Scarves, it is ethereal with a minor melody. However, in this one there are no instruments except Stephanie’s voice harmonies. The sparsity of the arrangement really pulls the activity into focus for the listener as they ball up the scarf then throw it. A perfect regulating scarf song.

Rhythm Sticks

My Rhythm Sticks by Kymberly Stewart 

This song is a gem. I love it so much. It is so well paced and the absolute perfect level of difficulty. The end of it will take you to church! Sing it, Kymberly!

I’m Gonna Tap My Sticks by Sing Along with Sarah

This is a really cheerful, upbeat song with tapping, drumming, walking, rolling, and a drum break! 

Stick Tune by Music Together

From the internationally acclaimed program Music Together comes this fantastic activity. The first part of the song uses rhythm sticks, halfway through you put the sticks down to clap and wiggle, then you pick the sticks back up. This is a fun way to take a beat and put into the sticks, then take away the instrument so the child’s body is the instrument, then return to the sticks. 

Magic Sticks by Dancing Bears Music

Tap, roll, click, drive, walk and more in this cute song. A great introduction to all of the different ways you can use rhythm sticks!