Does it exist? Probably not. I'm trying my best to find it anyway.
K is 28 months old. In those 28 months, we've been to just about every baby/toddler/mommy & me type activity that exists (at least in our relatively rural area. We're less rural now than we were before the move, but there's still no shiny neighborhood Gymboree either.) So far we've hit:
-Baby Tyme (good for the infants, but a bit mind-numbing for the parents)
-Toddle Time (Lots of repetition and usually followed by a mid-morning sugar infusion. I feed her enough junk at home, but thanks!)
-Mom & Me Dance Class (Kind of fun. Held in a roller-skating rink. A FREEZING COLD roller-skating rink. Also starts way too early in the morning.)
-Yoga Tots (We actually love this and have been going to it faithfully since April 2010.)
-Time for Twos (Twenty+ two year olds in a small room on a Monday morning? Excellent idea.)
-Intergenerational Playgoups (this is actually a neat idea -- it's a playgroup at the senior center where the residents come down and interact with the kids; however, like a lot of neat ideas, it's better in theory than in practice.)
-Church-sponsored playgroups (in their gymnasiums, in the winter. However, K never even entered the chapel part of a church until a friend's wedding six weeks ago, so -- that tells you something about my comfort level in that environment.)
-I... I forget. I feel like there have been other things we've tried, but they're all sort of lost in my brain under a hazy memory cloud of hand sanitizer and fruit snacks.
Anyway, in pursuit of the storytime holy grail, I dragged her grumpy butt out of bed at an ungodly hour (anything before 10, when Sesame Street comes on, is too early according to K) so I could try a new storytime. A new library branch. A new age group. (It was for 3 & 4 year old preschoolers. I have no regard for storytime policies! I'm such a rebel! Also: K is tall and can properly hold writing utensils and she speaks very clearly and can sort of pass for three!)
And you know what? It was awesome. I don't know that it was perfect perfect, but I think it's the best we've hit so far. Do you know why? Let me tell you. (I'm really diggin' the bullet-points today.)
-A good number of stories, read at a good pace. We've been to other storytimes where the librarian reads so quickly that you'd think she was getting paid by the page. I love it when librarians not only read at a nice, easily-understandable speed, but also take the time to point out neat things in the illustrations and actually interact with/welcome audience participation.
-A theme that makes sense but that is more than just the same thing over and over. Today's theme was staying healthy and taking care of yourself, and we had books about a bear having a cold, monsters eating their vegetables, and about what happens when you go to the doctor. (OK, that last book wasn't the exact one we read, but I can't remember what the name of it was and this is a good doctor book, too!) We talked about washing our hands and brushing our teeth and exercising.
-A relevant, engaging craft. Librarians: no one's being fooled when you throw some crayons and xeroxed coloring book pages at the kids and say "here, color something!" Today we made "baskets" with healthy fruits and vegetables and milk (um, paper, but still) and K had a great time identifying all of the colorful ingredients, using the gluestick (always a hit) and arranging them in the basket, then coloring/writing her name on the whole thing when she was done. She had to think about what she was doing and it kept her busy, and the end result is something I'll probably actually hang on to for a while instead of "forgetting" it in the car and then, um, having it accidentally fall into the trash. (Don't judge me. I love that she's a prolific artist but I can't preserve every masterpiece my special little snowflake makes for all eternity.)
-A good song/story ratio. Today was a little light on the song side, actually, but a lot of our other storytimes have been heavy on them, so -- no real complaints. There were other opportunities for the kids to stand up and move, which I think is important. Trying to keep a toddler sitting still = not one of my favorite things.
-A good mix of kids in the audience. This part is hit or miss and isn't something the library can really control, obviously, but I love it when the group is big and diverse enough to keep things interesting, but not so huge/the room so crowded that it intimidates the more introverted tots.
-A librarian who seems to genuinely enjoy what she's doing.
I know this list makes me sound like an entitled mom snob. I don't mean for it to. I know that there's really no room to complain about programs that are presented free of cost to the public. I think anything that gets kids into libraries and being exposed to books and music and new friends is fantastic, and I'll take a coloring page in that environment over the seventeenth Dora episode in a row at home any day. I also know that groups of snotty toddlers aren't every librarian's cup o' tea, and that's fine. I don't even like my snotty toddler all the time and I gave birth to her.
But when the stars align and you leave a children's activity (like a storytime!) where you're both smiling? It's a beautiful thing.
Tell me, what's important to you in a good storytime or organized mom/toddler activity? What makes you choose one library branch or group over another?