Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Tips for Hosting a Family Story Night at Your School

Every now and then I like to write a how-to article for teachers, librarians and PTA/PTO members. Here's one!

Looking for a family event to build listening and literacy skills, encourage parent involvement, build the school community, and make the school library a more welcoming space for students and parents? Why not try a Family Story Night? Invite the students, their families, staff and a storyteller for an evening event in the library or the gym.

Family Story Nights can be great fun. Be prepared for some chaos, though. Kids are excited to be in school when it’s not regular school time. It’s natural for them to want to show their friends off to their parents and their parents off to their friends. The schoolday restrictions are easily forgotten. I clearly remember running full tilt down the hall at an evening event in fifth grade, something that was absolutely forbidden during school time. Students may need a little extra guidance about how to behave.

Who’s in charge? Be very clear from the start about who is in charge of the children. Parents often assume teachers are, while teachers assume parents are. It’s not the job of the storyteller, in any case.
  • During the main event, request that families sit together.
  • If parents start chatting among themselves, remind them gently that they need to be good examples to their children. Do not expect the storyteller to do this.
  • If younger children create a disturbance, suggest the parents take them out of the performance for a short while.
Here are some ideas for Family Story Night. No need to do all of these; pick a few that will work for your school:
  • Hire a professional storyteller with experience at this kind of event. Be sure you discuss the details, including payment, venue, contact info, sound system, estimated size of the audience and length of time the storyteller will perform. Usually 30-45 minutes is appropriate, depending on the attention span of the audience. Remember that there will be a range of ages, from preschoolers up through grandparents at the event.
  • Invite the kids to come in pajamas and to bring blankets or sleeping bags. (Not all storytellers enjoy this, so be sure you’ve discussed it in advance.) Teachers and librarians may join in. Kids think it’s funny to see their teachers in bathrobes.
  • Suggest that the students bring a favorite book, and for about 15 minutes before the storytelling, invite the family groups to read together—kids reading to parents, parents reading to kids, kids reading to younger siblings. Have extra picture books available.
  • Give tours of the school library before or after the storytelling.
  • Allow students attending to borrow extra books from the school library. Be sure you have enough staff or parent volunteers available to check the books out at the time.
  • Ask the students to decorate the school in advance with hand-drawn posters of books they love.
  • Take pictures of teachers with their favorite books to decorate the gym or library.
  • Invite the public librarian to come and say hello.
  • Provide snacks for the very end of the program, as the kids are going out the door. Please, don’t serve snacks before or during the stories!
  • Solicit local businesses for funds to provide a book for every family.
  • Give out bookmarks.
  • Invite the local TV and newspaper reporters to cover the Family Story Night.
  • Make sure the event is over by 8 p.m. so children will be rested for school the next day!
For another take on Family Story Nights, check out storyteller Sue Black’s blog post, Pajama Night Delight.

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