Top tips to make your Bookstart Rhymetime a success

Published on: 02 November 2017 Author: Paula Keaton

Paula Keaton, the Senior Library Assistant for St Helens Libraries in Rainhill, shares her top tips to make your Bookstart Rhymetime session a success.

Paula Keaton's Rhymetime

I've been senior library assistant at St Helens for ten years - it's a lovely, friendly library set in a vibrant village.

Our core offer for children under five is our weekly Read and Rhyme Time. This gives us an opportunity to meet parents and children from an early age, encourage a love of reading and enjoyment of libraries, and keep the library at the heart of the community. I deliver the Read and Rhyme session every Friday morning and I thoroughly enjoy every session.

How do I run Read and Rhyme?

I usually set up the room the evening before - as we have such a well-established, large group (with up to 70 parents and children at times!) I don't want to be rushed first thing. I also like to choose two stories - sometimes we can have lots of babies, while at other times there are more toddlers, so I can always change depending on the turnout.

It's important to choose an appropriate book when it comes to age and content, and the BIG thing is to read through the story so I can put as much emotion and expression into it as possible.

I like to ask children and families to sit on the floor as I feel this encourages them to interact more, and it is much easier to maintain eye-to-eye contact throughout the session - that is really important, especially when you're a little one. I tend to sit on the floor at the front and everyone gathers around me.

Paula Keaton's Rhymetime

I start by saying hello to all the children by name - I can't remember what I did yesterday, and yet I know all of the children's names! I also welcome any newcomers to the group, then ask everybody to say hello to each other with a big wave and a cheery hello.

I start with all the usual rhymes, with a mixture of sitting down and standing up. I always make it a bit more fun when I do certain rhymes; for example, with 'Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes', I sing, 'Eggs, Polos, beans on toast', and all the children find it hysterical. I think they wait every week just to see what I will say. It's hilarious - the sillier I am, the more fun they have.

I have a shoe box covered in colourful paper that contains a mixture of nursery rhymes on laminated card with the picture on the front and the rhyme on the back. It's a brilliant way to engage the children in choosing rhymes for themselves. I pick as many different children as possible each week, but always tell them not to be sad if they don't get chosen this time because it's important to share and they might be picked the next time.

I also use five laminated currant buns. The children count them out each week, we sing the song, and then I call a child's name and they come and collect the currant bun. At the end of the rhyme I ask the children to return the buns, which they all do quite willingly - probably in great anticipation of getting one the week after! For a special treat, I always ask if it's anyone's birthday and if it is, they get to take a bun home to keep - I always have a few extra just in case. Lots of them nearly have a full set as they have been coming for so long!

Paula Keaton's Rhymetime

I try to encourage everyone to sit as our story is about to begin, and for such little ones they do a great job. Then with my 'Big Sssssh', we have quiet - in fact, you can nearly hear a pin drop. I involve the children as much as I can during the story, asking them to join in with sounds and asking questions about the characters. When our story ends, I always praise them for listening well and ask all the parents to clap - it's wonderful to see lots of proud little faces.

As our session is coming to an end, the grand finale is about to begin. Out comes our box of brightly coloured musical instruments and everyone gets to choose one. Then let 'The Grand Old Duke of York' commence! This is secretly one of my (and the parents') favourite parts of the session. In my big booming voice I start, and off we go shaking our instruments and marching around the library.

Paula Keaton's Rhymetime

After that, we end by having a little colouring time and I hand out stickers and stamps to the children. This is a great time for parents, children and other families to get to know each other, and, of course, for me to get to know them.

I thank everyone as they leave for coming and say that I hope they will come back again!

My top tips for a great Read and Rhyme session

  1. Plan your session - choose and read your story in advance.
  2. Be yourself and have fun!
  3. Get to know all your families and children, by name if you can - this makes a huge difference.
  4. I use a line from 'The Wheels On The Bus' just as our story is about to begin. I shout, 'What do all the daddies on the bus do?' and put my finger to my lips with a big, 'Ssssshhh!' All the children copy me, and the room amazingly goes quiet! 
  5. Use colourful props – I have laminated nursery rhymes, currant buns and musical instruments. Children love them!
  6. Always praise the children for listening and joining in.
  7. Always encourage book borrowing and coming to the library.
  8. Take the time to chat with families and get to know them after the session.
  9. Thank everyone for coming and say you hope that they've had a great time. From the smiles on everyone's faces, I can tell they have!

You might also like


Find out more

Visit the Bookstart practitioners' homepage for more top tips, advice and information about how to deliver the programme.

How Bookstart began

By founder Wendy Cooling

Wendy Cooling remembers how Bookstart began 25 years ago with a small pilot - before becoming a nationwide programme.

Best new books

Explore our pick of new books

Check out our favourite books from this month. Whether they're a teeny toddler or a particular teen, here's where you can find your child's next amazing read from among the very latest books.