Virtual Storytime and Circle Time: 15 Tips To Make a Dynamic Video

Perfect the lighting, display song lyrics, introduce your pet, and other ways to get little ones engaged and singing along to from home.

Imagine this: All your regular storytime kids are at home. Their caregiver sits them down and says, “Guess what? Your favorite librarian is going to do a storytime with you today. On a video!” Their little faces light up. They sing, clap, laugh, and dance along with you. Their lives have been turned upside down, but you are still there, singing and playing with them. For a few minutes, everything is okay.

Librarians are experts at the early literacy and performance skills that make storytime magical. We can make virtual storytimes magical, too. Even if it comes with a few challenges.

I am creating weekly Virtual Circle Time videos for my community, and the first one has been met with great enthusiasm. In the 15-minute video, shot at home, I led the little listeners through songs, a trivia activity, and a craft. 

Video tips

  • Keep things interactive. Having a back-and-forth with toddlers is the biggest loss we experience in video form. Or do we? We can still ask questions and pause for answers. Ask viewers to “Show me five!” and pause while they hold up five fingers. If you choose to include a picture book, you can still insert questions about the story and pause for their response. When kids are interacting with a video, it elevates the quality of the screen time.
  • Edit your video. Download a free video editor, or use the one included with your operating system, and start cutting. If you are nervous in front of a camera, this is the perfect chance to delete awkward moments, slow parts that are likely to lose toddlers’ attentions, and repetitive words.
  • Include song lyrics on screen. In our ideal virtual storytime scenario, caregivers sing along, and their enthusiasm rubs off on the kids. Adding lyrics on screen is an easy way to help make this happen. Most video editing software allows users to "Add Titles" or "Insert Text." I use DaVinci Resolve to position lyrics on screen. When filming, dedicate about half the screen as space for text—and keep that space white and free from objects. Then insert the lyrics in time with your singing, using a simple, accessible font in black. I like Open Sans, but Arial, Calibri, or Helvetica work well, too. If you can’t add in the lyrics, you can make them available in the video description. 
  • Add background music, photos, and animations. We may have the familiarity and the early literacy expertise, but our videos are competing with highly produced TV shows for family attention. Purchase the rights or look for “No Attribution Required” songs and photos to keep kids hooked and bring your video to the next level.
  • Do not instruct kids to touch their face. Many toddler songs include actions that involve putting finger to the face. Caregivers are trying to teach their toddlers to avoid this, and they will be frustrated and likely angered if your video instructs them to "touch their nose" or pull "sticky sticky bubblegum" off their face. They may even stop watching. If you can alter the lyrics, do it. If you can't, remove the song.
  • Include a song about handwashing. A great alternative to those face-touching songs is one about handwashing. Find or write a song with actions that demonstrate how to wash every part of the hand. This is a tool that families can use when trying to get toddlers to wash for 20 seconds.
  • Use props. Incorporating scarves, for example, is a great way to add learning to a storytime. We use them to practice directions, hand-eye coordination, color naming, following instructions, and impulse control skills. Plus, it’s fun! Encourage listeners to pause the video and find a piece of fabric. If you usually sing shaker songs, show listeners how to make their own shaker at home using everyday objects.
  • Film a short craft. This is another opportunity for learning, and a craft activity breaks up the visuals. I made a puppy out of a toilet paper roll in my first video and an egg shaker in my second. Point the camera straight down on a table and talk your listeners through the steps as you do them. Precut all the materials, and make sure the craft can be done using glue sticks or tape.
  • Consider the benefits of prerecorded versus live streamed. You know your community best. If you’re not sure which to do, try putting out a poll. For my group, I found there were more benefits to a prerecorded storytime. For example, it can be replayed as many times as viewers would like, it’s more shareable, it’s more accessible to viewers who may not use Facebook, you can edit it, you can add lyrics on screen, and you will likely reach more viewers overall.

Filming tips
Most librarians aren’t videography experts or viral Youtubers, but we can do our best with the resources we have. Here are a few best practices for filming:

  • Don't sit directly in front of or behind a window. Ideally, the window would be slightly in front of you, or to the side at a shallow angle.
  • Use lamps or film lighting to even out the light from a window. Try to make sure the light is balanced on either side.
  • If your lamp is too harsh, try a DIY diffusing technique such as wax paper.
  • Use a simple background and avoid busy patterns. It breaks my maximalism-loving heart to say this, but even a bookshelf might be too much. By creating a distraction-free setting, your video will be more accessible for viewers with attention, sensory, or vision challenges.
  • If you don't have a tripod and a phone clamp, find a way to fashion them. A floor lamp or a tall bookshelf could take the place of a tripod. You can use alligator clips, duct tape, or an empty tissue box to prop up your phone on the "tripod."
  • Frame your shot so that your face and shoulders fill most of the screen, with empty space to the side for lyrics. Our virtual selves are very small compared to our real selves. We want our viewers to see our facial expressions clearly.

In many ways, making videos is a challenge compared to real-live storytimes. But it does allow us some extra flexibility. Make the videos your own in some fun, silly way. Wear a costume for one of the songs! Have a real banana as a prop during your banana song. Introduce your storytime regulars to your pet cat. My dog joined me for one of my songs, and the response was so positive that he’s going to be in every video.

Librarians have been adapting to community needs for years, and we will continue to do so. If you are able to follow through with these tips, that’s great! But remember: As long as you produce a video full of enthusiasm and compassion, you have done your community a great service.

Karissa Fast is a librarian at St. Catharines Public Library in Ontario, Canada.


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Danielle Day

What software did you use to edit your video and put the words on the screen?

Posted : Apr 07, 2020 09:02

Karissa Fast

Hi Danielle,

I used the free video editing software, Da Vinci Resolve, for all my editing including adding text. Hope that helps!

Posted : Apr 10, 2020 02:32



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