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:
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.
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!?”
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:
- Raffi singing Down by the Bay in concert (a low key, yet highly engaging style)
- Fred Penner performs The Cat Came Back on set (pay attention to the way he moves around the stage, and his facial expressions)
- Sharon, Lois, and Bram in concert (this is painfully 90s, but look at that stage presence!)
- The Wiggles perform in an Apple Store (the sincere smiling and confidence in the actions)
- Laurie Berkner in concert (her commitment to the actions while simultaneously playing guitar is inspirational!)
Learn Songs You Like!
My personal favourite is a classic by Raffi. I’ve added to / updated the verses a bit:
Shake Our Sillies Out
We’re gonna shake, shake, shake our sillies out
Shake, shake, shake our sillies out
Shake, shake, shake our sillies out
And wiggle our waggles away
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:
- Storytime Ukulele – This is my go-to resource when I can’t figure out the chords on my own
- Ukulele Storytime on Youtube – this is an especially great resource if you are new to playing the ukulele
- Live About Children’s Song Chords – great for more traditional songs
- Storytime Songs – Click on the “guitar chords” link for the chord progressions (the chord names for a song are the same no matter which instrument you’re playing them on!)
For more ukulele adjacent ideas, my posts on:
- How to Teach Kids the Basics of Ukulele Playing
- Five Green and Speckled Frogs Flannel
- How I Leveled Up My Toddler Storytime
- Unicorn Magic Party
- Virtual Storytime Tips
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!