Friday, January 31, 2014

Doing storytime when your voice is MIA

Periodically, and for me today was one of those days, you have to do storytime with a cold or a complete case of laryngitis. Sometimes you're not sick enough (or contagious enough) to miss work. Sometimes there's just no one else to do it. So you do what I did this morning, grab a cup of hot tea, and shoulder through.

Side note: as a manager, STAY HOME if you're sick. I have worked with a thousand people (almost always women) who come in even though they are sick because "we are so far behind" or "I knew how busy we would be" and so on and so forth. I've been tempted to do it myself. It's a nice thing, a sign that an employee is invested in their job and that you've created a workplace team culture.

But it is also overall very detrimental. When people come to work sick, they are often increasing the amount of time that they will be sick. It took me years personally to learn when I get sick if I can stay home towards the start, I'll often be out of work only 1-2 days, not the 3-4 days if I try to "power through" it. You don't get as much done when you're sick. I'd rather have you take time off sick for 2 days and then be back to full steam, then work at half power while sick for two days and still take a couple of days off because you've made yourself much worse. And of course the damage is magnified because you're also spreading your germs to all your coworkers risking even more lost time.

So stay home when you're sick. Which I didn't do today, I have a fairly mild cold, not worth staying home for. And if an employee came in with the same cold, I wouldn't object despite the legitimate objections raised above. However that cold has turned me into a gravelly voiced monster. Thus a blog post, five things on a Friday, for doing storytime when you've lost your voice.

  1. Stick to songs most people know. This is not the week to introduce new songs. Keep it simple stupid. If you're adding an extra verse, give people the words. I used to love doing projector + slides in storytime, but currently we're going lo-tech with easels and flip charts. If people know the songs, you can get everyone started and then just do the motions with an occasional pathetic croak.
  2. If it is really bad, use recorded music. People will forgive you this once. I've whipped up a playlist and attached my iphone to computer speakers, or strung together various songs from Raffi CDs. (Please note this is why you never put my music collection on shuffle everything, you'll skip from classical to hard rock to Raffi and it makes your head spin.)
  3. Find books with lots of participation. Books where kids shout out a refrain are good. Today I used If You're Happy and You Know It by Jane Cabrera. It's a sing along book, so I just rather got them started each page and then croaked quietly along.
  4. Go high energy. This seems counter intuitive, but if you get the kids rollicking and chanting, it's less obvious that you can barely talk. This is a good time jump, shout (encourage them to shout), hop like a frog, roar like a lion, etc. You can not sustain a quiet gentle storytime with sweet songs with no voice, but you can get the party started and croak along.
  5. Call in a video ringer. Show one of those Westin Woods videos the library paid way too much for so you would have public performance rights. Years ago I had totally killed my voice screaming along at a concert. I couldn't vocalize at all, only whispers. I "demonstrated" a new database/story reading service that over our website would read picture books while highlighting the text. I let the computer read the book for me!
Today I went with tips #1, #3, and #4 and still got compliments on storytime. Remember storytime is not about you doing a perfect performance. It's about engaging kids and caregivers to interact with songs, rhymes and books. You don't need a perfect, opera ready voice, you just need energy and a good attitude. Notice my repeated insistence that you croak along, start the wave of energy and just ride it.

So go forth and do your gravelly monstered voice storytime! But if you're really sick, please stay home. Either way, I raise a cup of tea to you.