Posted by: Ticktock | November 19, 2009

Opinion: Story Time Sucks!

It just dawned on me today. Story time sucks!

I know that I’m already looking at the alternative wellness culture through jade colored glasses, but I hit a new low in cynicism when I went to the free story time with my kids at the local holistic parenting center today. Yes, it was awkward walking past anti-vaccine paraphernalia and fliers for baby massage classes, but I wasn’t really anticipating how contemptuous I’d be of the actual story time.

First, the class was filled with new mothers and their barely crawling babies. How cute, right? Until I started realizing that the only people in the room who could even understand the story were the parents (and my kids, who ignored most of it); we were also the only people clapping along and doing the silly gestures too. It was absurd.

I’d like to have thought that my two comparatively older children were mature enough to concentrate on the stories and songs, but Sasha was turning the floor spots into makeshift frisbees and Juliet spent the entire time imitating the persistent yap of a toy poodle. Anyone who was supposed to hear the story either lacked the language skills to comprehend it, or the patience to appreciate it.

And many of these parents were doing sign language to the words in the story. I know that signing is supposed to be a symbol of progressive parenting, but it doesn’t make sense why parents would want to teach their kid a second language before they can even understand a first language. It really messes with my head. Does baby really need to understand how to say “grandpa” in sign language? You know? Just let her learn to talk in the language that her community can understand, unless she lives in a deaf community and then let her sign all day long.

I know. I know. I’m even pissing myself off with how negative I’ve become. Sometimes I need to come here and vent. Those moms were all nice moms. I could tell that they simply want the best for their kids (as we all do), and they probably just wanted to find a way to get out of the house. I really don’t want to judge them. I just want to share that story time sucks, and it’s OK not to like story time.

Read to your kids, though. As often as you can.

Anybody else hate story time? Anyone hate me now? Let me know.



  1. I’d like to start my comment by saying that I’ve been reading your blog for some time, and I really appreciate what you’re doing here. I really appreciate being able to read about parenting from an angle that I can relate to as a scientist and stay at home mom.

    I do, however, think that you’re not giving the language thing fair treatment. The younger the child is when you start to teach him a second language, the easier it is to acquire. I’ve recently started learning Spanish in the hopes of at least teaching my son a few things. He can’t speak yet, and I don’t expect him to be fluent in Spanish (or English) for a while, but the sooner he’s exposed to it, the better he’ll be at acquiring Spanish. Disclaimer: I live in New Mexico, where being bilingual is a huge asset, and one that I wish I had.

    I think you’re perfectly justified in not liking story time though. I considered taking my son to story time at the local library, but decided that it would not do him much good at this age (he’s 8 months). I read to him at home, but he’s mostly interested in chewing on the board books. When he gets a bit older, I hope he loves story time as much as I did as a child, but right now, he’s in a developmental stage where actively playing with him is much more beneficial than expecting him to sit through a story.

    • Thanks for reading regularly, Lexi. I welcome your comment.

      I think you’re right about acquiring a second language. I know sign language is technically a second language, but it’s not a language that hearing-abled kids can use to communicate with anyone except a very small fraction of the population. At least with teaching Spanish, there’s some places the language can be applied.

      That being said, my recent animosity toward baby signing is strictly opinion and not based on a review of the evidence. My mom is very sign language friendly; she’ll probably clobber me when she reads this.

  2. Yeah, teaching sign language while young isn’t taking the place of anything; it isn’t using up resources that ought to be dedicated to something else, and it doesn’t interfere with acquisition of another (probably primary) language. The brain is vast, and concept acquisition is only aided by, not hindered by, having more neural connections activated when presented by the concept. Even if there were no other benefit to signing (like actually learning the language) the armchair cognitive scientist/connectionist in me is certain it’s a neurological bonus.

    Now, do those kids look any different from any other kids when they’re in their 20’s or 30’s? I don’t know. I doubt they are cognitively hampered though. Really, the only person whose time is impacted, really, is the parent’s and I kind of like knowing the signs myself.

  3. Hey BPD – nice to see you’re still checking in on me. I remember we bantered back and forth about this before, I think. It’s not that I’m making claims that signing will harm or benefit a child’s language acquisition (or at least not in this particular article). I just see it as unnecessary and pseudo-progressive, like it’s just another impractical class being thrust on parents who already feel like they’re not doing enough.

    Bah. Don’t listen to me. My kids can’t even concentrate on Biscuit’s Thanksgiving for more than two minutes. I’ve clearly done something wrong.

    • “I’ve clearly done something wrong.”

      Yeah – you gave them your genes… (bwa-ha-haaa!)

    • I read every post :}

  4. Why the hate on the sign language, buddy?

    We taught sign to both of our kids when they were toddlers, and it was especially helpful with our first, since she started talking late (though she’s clearly making up for lost time now!). “Grandfather” is actually a common sign to teach toddlers, so they can communicate about the different people in their lives. The first, though, are usually things like “milk”, “food”, and “sleep”. Oh, and “ouch”.

    Studies have shown that signing allows nonverbal kids – even as young as 6 months – to communicate simple ideas. Some people were concerned that it would delay verbal development, but it turned out to not be the case. One study even suggested that signing early could boost a child’s IQ

    Now, I can’t say all that science without references, right? Well, I hate to link Wikipedia, but remember that Brian Dunning said it’s great, especially to check references at the bottom of the article. But this Wiki-article itself has a well-organized and referenced “Research” section.

  5. OK — story time for lap babies is for the parents, not the kids. (Translation = “lap baby” = not yet crawling, even). I can understand your frustration. Age-appropriate story time at the library might be more satisfactory.

    I was skeptical about “baby signing” too, but [FOO! reference fail] I seem to recall that infants taught a modicum of hand signals had later, superior, spoken language development.

    As I understand it, “baby signing” isn’t a full-on launch into being fluent in ASL, but is a bridge to allow infants to communicate. Some signs might be idiosyncratic to the individual family or baby. In other words, the family adopts a sign originated by the infant. This happens with spoken language too, and may hang on after the child (or children) have progressed to full speech. For example, in my family (my youngest is almost 21) we still use “tree food” sometimes for broccoli, “beeps” for grapes, “bubble juice” for beverages like 7-Up, “keep your teeth inside” for “don’t laugh at me” and “upping thing” for stepstool or ladder.

    I heard a funny story re signing, from a friend who had her father living with her as well as two diaper babies. Her father had a stroke and some other issues, and had both urinary & fecal incontinence. However, if asked, he would deny that he was even wearing diapers, let alone the need for a change. Thus, the adults in the household developed a hand signal that the father needed a diaper change, by fanning a hand behind their buttocks (like waving away the odor of flatulence).

    One day my friend noticed that her older diaper baby (almost ready for toilet training) would stand up and wave his hand behind his little diapered buttocks, thus indicating that he’d had a bowel movement.

  6. I don’t have the references handy, but I do remember looking this up. (I’m a linguist, but don’t specifically research this developmental stuff.)

    The linguistic research supports some benefits for learning multiple spoken languages, but I’m pretty sure there wasn’t any evidence (as of maybe half a year ago) that signing – particularly the very limited signing that I think most parents do in the current craze – either delays speech or confers the cognitive benefits associated with a full spoken second language.

    Anecdotally, though, it does seem to allow infants to communicate certain key concepts (“milk”, “mommy”, etc) more clearly and earlier than they would be able to do verbally. And being able to communicate is thought (though perhaps not empirically demonstrated) to ease anxiety and frustration. Which is good, whether or not it has long-term benefits. (Basically what Rob T and Wikipedia said.)

    Why do kids get their first signed words before their first spoken words? Possibly something to do with the difference between controlling your hands (which you can see) and controlling your vocal tract (which you cannot see). Okay, that’s pure speculation on my part. But it sounds plausible, doesn’t it?

  7. I totally agree with group story times. I have tried it with my son because he loves for us to read to him at home and will bring us book after book and sit attentively while we read them to him. This does not translate to attentiveness during a group story time as he is more interested in the other kids and stuff going on than the story.

    As far as the signing I can tell you from personal experience that it allowed our son to make his wants and needs known more effectively from a much earlier age than if we had waited for his verbal language skills to develop. From about 8 months he knew and used about 10 signs, including diaper change, nurse, a few of his favorite snacks, and a couple of objects. We are not trying to teach him the entirety of ASL but just signs that he and his family/caretakers/friends can use to communicate. He signing vocabulary is about 50 words now and is still mostly used as a way for him to communicate things he wants or needs but does not yet have the ability to verbalize. It has saved us saved us from some of the crying and tantrums that result from not understanding what he want to communicate. In the end, for us, it has nothing to do with teaching another language, it is only a tool for making communication in our home more effective and pleasant.

    As an aside, it has been very useful for my husband and I because we can communicate with each other discretely across a room or share things without others knowing what we are doing or even noticing it.

  8. LOL, Ticktock! You sound like my husband who ended his stay-at-home gig this September when he went back to full-time teaching. He is a really nice mild-mannered midwesterner who soldiered on – in relative isolation – in the “world of mommies” for 8 years. But by the end, he HAD JUST HAD IT and everything irritated him. But I gotta say, you asked for a high dose of insult to your intelligence when you went to a holistic parenting center!

  9. Dude, seriously, stop with the hating on baby sign language. It is so useful! Babies can’t form many words at 12 months, but they can form simple signs. What would you rather have, a baby who screams its head off, for apparently no reason, or a baby who can sign “more” to let you know they are still hungry? I blogged about this awhile back:

  10. Like so many “modern parenting” things, it seems that well-intentioned yet thoughtless individuals have taken a great and simple idea and turned it into “a thing”.

    “Story Time” used to be relatively simple; a volunteer (often a teacher or a retired person of some sort) would come into the local library to read some featured book to some kids. The library would post signs and such indicating the schedule, what books were to be read at upcoming events, and the approximate age range.

    It was meant as a fun supplement to parents reading to their kids, an opportunity for kids to make friends, and a chance for parents to use the “grownup” part of the library for half an hour while someone else supervised.

    Now, though, it seems to be some kind of ritual that is supposed to be “developmental” or “bonding time” for parents and kids. And that’s when there’s *not* some woo associated with a particular event. It’s kind of depressing.

    I call foul on the signing thing, though: there’s solid research to support using sign as part of infant/toddler education. See, e.g. OSU’s Using sign language as a communication tool in infant/toddler group care settings

  11. I liked that my daughter could sign certain needs, like “more” “enough” and such before she could talk.

    So I like sign language for babies.

    I didn’t care if she knew what was going on with story time when I took her to the library when I was a stay-at-home dad. I liked learning the stories and rhymes to retell her, she liked playing with the other kids, and I liked talking to the other grown ups.

    So I like story times.

    Oh, and I like you, too.


  12. I hated story time, too. The ones I’d gone to were so treacly sweet and heavy on us learning some of valuable lesson like sharing or compassion, neither particularly awful as stand alones, but it’s story time not Sunday school.

    UNTIL recently when I discovered one at a library not in my neighborhood. The woman who puts it on does a varied program of reading, singing, and putting on little plays around the theme for the week (next Friday it’s bears, I can’t wait). There is *no* signing and the emphasis is on learning about new books. Wow! what a concept. The librarian seems to cater more to an experience for the kids (hence the little plays) than what a well-intended didact thinks they should experience.

    I am also on the ASL meh… side of things, but did find about ten signs that were useful ‘more’ and the like.

  13. Trying to take my son to story time at the local library with little success. I just want to know how all the other parents get their kids to sit so still. Meanwhile, mine is running around pointing at all the number and letters on the carpet and trying to grab the felt animals from the librarian while she is still using them! Haven’t given up yet.

    Oh, and ditto what everyone else has said about signing. This is one of those areas where the research is not on your side.

  14. Baby sign is not really teaching your kid sign language as a whole language or even a second language. It’s a transitional from of communication until they can verbalize.

    We used it and it was really helpful. Much better our daughter bump her fists together to signify “more” and tip her fist to signify “no more” that to have her just scream, point and avoid.

    We used a fist to the cheek for apple. One day when we were showering my daughter points to my scrotum and does the sign for apple. So she was telling me that my scrotum reminder her of an apple or that it was another object that was round.

    Either way. I got it, and she was clearly communicating an idea that she wouldn’t have been able to do otherwise because she couldn’t talk yet.

    How could that possible be bad?

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