March 24, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

Use Props in Early Learning Programs To Add New Dimension

One of the things I like most about my colleagues is that they, like me, tend to be opinionated, which leads to the sharing of thoughts and ideas. Take, for example, the use of props in programs. Some of my fellow librarians love them; others can’t stand them. However, props in early learning programs, in my experience, are extremely useful for five reasons:

They make it easy to model play
I know. Play is not something that we necessarily think needs to be demonstrated. Yet sometimes it does. I enjoy using simple props in programs, such as a tissue box to pull out scarves or another surprise. That shows caregivers how easy it can be to do something similar at home.

They don’t need to be store-bought
Another great way to model play (and talking) is to use easy-to-duplicate flannel board pieces, made out of oaktag or card stock, that parents can take home. Using an “Elephant and Piggie” book in storytime? Send young learners off with their own stick puppets of an elephant and pig to act out the story, extend it, or create a new one.

They help little ones sit through a rhyme or story
I’ve heard detractors say they feel props distract from the story; others have said they find they interrupt the natural “flow” of a narrative. Admittedly, there is a difference between reading a book from start to finish and retelling it using a combination of the text and other embellishments. But sometimes young brains need a different visual than the book. Perhaps they are sitting on a lap 15 feet away from you. Maybe the illustrations are detailed or on the smaller side. Having a prop, such as an enlarged photo, a puppet of a character or animal from the story, or a flannel board to supplement the “turn of the page,” creates more interaction to help the tale come to life.

They make concepts visual
Shapes, colors, letters, or numbers can all be used in conjunction with a book. Try reading an alphabet title, such as R Is for Rocket: An ABC Book by Tad Hills. You can read through it once and then hand out large letters to each child and adult, depending on the size of the group (or use lower- and uppercase letters if you have a very large group). On the second read-through, young listeners will be waiting for “their” letter to be called so they can come up and place it on the flannel or magnet board. An art activity could extend this further. Have them create letter collages using the first letter of their name on large pieces of construction paper. Add a glue stick, some tissue paper sheets to rip into pieces and glue onto the letter, and voilà! ABC fun.

They add a sense of wonder to a program (especially musical instruments)
Children can explore different sounds, and the various objects that make them, by listening and following simple directions to make a noise at the right time. Caps for Sale by Esphyr Slobodkina is a perennial favorite of mine. For toddler groups, I might act out the story with myself as the peddler and some monkey puppets. Egg shakers are perfectly sized for teeny hands. The children can contribute to the story by shaking the eggs whenever the monkeys in the story are shaking their fingers at the peddler. Other popular titles, such as I Went Walking by Sue Williams, allow the librarian to pair an instrument with an animal for a parade. After sharing the story as a traditional read-aloud, I hand out tambourines, egg shakers, bells, and more (some are duplicated). When the red cow shows up, we get those tambourines tapping! Is that a green duck? Hello, jingling bells! This type of pairing is actually sophisticated for little ones, so it’s a great challenge activity to keep caregivers and children listening.

What are some other ways that you use story props in your early learning programs? Let us know.

Extra Helping header

This article was featured in our free Extra Helping enewsletter.
Subscribe today to have more articles like this delivered to you twice a week.

This article was published in School Library Journal's May 2017 issue. Subscribe today and save up to 35% off the regular subscription rate.

Lisa G. Kropp About Lisa G. Kropp

Lisa G. Kropp is the assistant director of the Lindenhurst Memorial Library in Lindenhurst, NY, and a forever children’s librarian.



  1. Thank you! Lots of good ideas here. You’ve jump started my library plans for my next book.

Comment Policy:
  1. Be respectful, and do not attack the author, people mentioned in the article, or other commenters. Take on the idea, not the messenger.
  2. Don't use obscene, profane, or vulgar language.
  3. Stay on point. Comments that stray from the topic at hand may be deleted.

We are not able to monitor every comment that comes through (though some comments with links to multiple URLs are held for spam-check moderation by the system). If you see something objectionable, please let us know. Once a comment has been flagged, a staff member will investigate.

We accept clean XHTML in comments, but don't overdo it and please limit the number of links submitted in your comment. For more info, see the full Terms of Use.

Speak Your Mind