How to Add a Ukulele to Toddler Storytime

ukulele1

Ever since I started using my cute little uke in storytime, I can’t imagine going without it. It adds a level of engagement and fun to each session, for everyone involved: the parents, the kids, and me! Each storytime feels like a mini concert, where everyone is the rock star. Toddlers come back to the library weeks later, pointing at me saying “It’s the lady with the little guitar!”

Over the years I’ve talked to a lot of children’s librarians who are interested in jazzing up storytime with a uke, but don’t know where to start. Hence this post! I learned the ukulele years before becoming a librarian, but there’s a difference between playing with your friends on the porch and performing for a crowd of tiny humans.

Whether you already know the uke, or if you’re planning to learn just for storytime, here are my tips:

Start Slow

Unless you are a seasoned musical performer, I highly suggest that you start by adding one ukulele song to your storytime rotation. Choose a song that kids already know well, and that you are beyond comfortable with. For me it was If You’re Happy and You Know It.

This gives you a chance to wrap your mind around the performance aspect. There’s already so much that we keep consciously track of during storytime – parent attentiveness, child engagement, time mangement, the words of the song, the tune of the song, early learning skill reminders, etc, etc. Work your way up to a ukulele filled storytime, one song at a time.

ukulele storytime chords

Learn the Base Chords of Children’s Music

If you are learning the ukulele from scratch I highly recommend that you start with these chords: C, G, G7, D, F, Am, and Dm. Even if you just learn C, G, F, and G7, you’ll be able to play most storytime songs. Bonus – these are some of the easiest chords to learn and to switch between.

My go-to uke songs lately have been: Shake Our Sillies Out, Five Green and Speckled Frogs, Baby Shark (and altered versions to be about any animal), Slippery Fish, If You’re Happy and You Know It, and the Alphabet Song. If you learn the above chords, you can play all of those songs. You can download my printable song book here for the lyrics and chord progressions: Storytime Songs with Chords

Always Play an Intro and Outro to Your Songs

What I mean by this: play the chords of the song through 1 or 2 times before you start singing, and after you stop singing. Why? Because it sets the tone of the song and signals to the kids that you are transitioning into a new song. It also give the storytime more of a professional, concert feel.

I launch into my first ukulele song right away, Shake Our Sillies Out, and playing the intro helps jump start their attention spans. Sometimes I talk over the chords saying “Welcome to storytime! I’m Karissa and I’m so excited to sing and read and dance with you today! Are you ready to shake!?”

karissa
Me, rocking out, years ago at Kitchener Public Library.

Treat it as a Performance

Children’s librarians are already pros at performance, so this probably doesn’t need to be said. But here’s an empowering reminder anyway: You have so much power up there in front of the group! Smile! Make eye contact! Learn interesting strumming patterns to spice things up! Don’t just sit in the chair and play: dance around! Be a Professional Sillyhead™.

Watch professional children’s music performers for inspiration:

Learn Songs You Like!

There are lots of great resources for ukulele storytime songs. You can start here, with my Storytime Songs with Chords! Or with my video of The Unicorn Song.

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My personal favourite is a classic by Raffi. I’ve added to / updated the verses a bit:

Shake Our Sillies Out
C
We’re gonna shake, shake, shake our sillies out
G7
Shake, shake, shake our sillies out
C
Shake, shake, shake our sillies out
G7
And wiggle our waggles away

Verses:
Clap our crankies out
Jump our jiggles out
Twirl our troubles out
Yawn our sleepies out
Sit down quietly

Other amazing resources for children’s ukulele songs:

For more ukulele adjacent ideas, my posts on:

Finally, know that adding a ukulele to storytime is a journey! You will grow your talent and confidence over months and years. I’ve been trying for a few months to perfect my performance of this Clap Your Hands song, which went viral because of one kid’s hysterical giggling:

What would your ideal ukulele song lineup look like? Make it happen!

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