Thursday, June 18, 2015

Early Literacy Messages In Action

I’m always appreciative of the effort it takes for families to come to my baby storytime. My boys are school-aged now, but it wasn’t that long ago that it was me who was trying to juggle naptimes, cranky babies, and squirmy toddlers and get out of the house to get to the library on time.  It’s not easy, and I think it shows that the caregivers who are there really do want to be there because they feel like storytimes are valuable for themselves and their child.

While sometimes librarians are worried about including early literacy tips in their storytimes because they think it comes off as preachy or didactic, I actually find that most of my caregivers are extremely receptive to these types of tips. Talking to the caregivers before and after storytime, I hear time and time again that they are at the library because they want to instill a love of books in their child or help them learn and grow. I have a huge percentage of ESL families in my storytimes, and I know the caregivers who attend are very passionate about how the storytimes are a great way to expose their young children to the language.

When I started doing baby storytimes, I used to give families handouts with the words to our songs and a literacy tip. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with doing it this way, but I have personally moved towards trying to incorporate these tips as naturally as possible into the storytime process itself.  I feel a lot more comfortable doing it this way, and it seems to resonate more with the families.   Here’s a glimpse into what this looks like in action.

Give families “permission” to read books in non-traditional ways.

We’ve all been there. Sometimes the book that seemed perfect in your planning process is obviously not going to go over well for a group that’s extra antsy.  While I may decide to ditch a book entirely, lately I’m more apt to read it in an alternate fashion.  I’ll show the book and just name what’s on the page or point out a few interesting details in the illustrations.  Maybe we’ll count the numbers of apples on the tree in the picture, or the butterflies in the sky, or whatever.  Sometimes I’ll just conversationally narrate what’s going on rather than read the exact text.  It’s usually very obvious to the caregivers when I’m doing this, because they can read the text on the page and see that I’m not following it.  

After I’m done sharing the book, I always like to say something like this: “Don’t feel that every time you read a book to your child, you have to read exactly what it says on the page, and read every page, in the exact order. It’s not always easy for wiggleworms to sit still! By sharing a book like we just did, you are still teaching your child vocabulary and helping them learn to love books!”

I also like to share books in non-traditional ways. There’s always the classic idea of singing “Brown Bear, Brown Bear” to “Twinkle Twinkle,” but if we do that, I also like to bring out “Brown Bear” again and sing “Old MacDonald Had a Farm” while showing some of the pages from the book.  “With a blue horse here, and a blue horse there…”  I like to point out that using the same book in multiple ways helps reinforce the vocabulary the child is learning, and that singing, of course, is a great way to help hear the individual syllables that make up words.

Oh Say, Can You Say

When you look at early literacy tips, you often see caregivers encouraged to narrate their day to their baby. This is one that sometimes seems overwhelming to new parents -- “I’m just trying to get through the day, but now you’re telling me I have to spend the whole day describing everything I do? That’s going to drive me crazy!” In reality, this is something that many people naturally do with small children, without even realizing they’re doing it.  Throughout my storytime, I try to narrate what I’m doing. For instance, as I pass out props to the children, I might say, “And here’s a red scarf for Harry, and a blue scarf for Hermione, and Hagrid gets the purple scarf!” Or I might count out the children aloud as I pass out shakers (which helps me keep track for recording attendance stats)!  If I haven’t prepoured the bubble solution for our bubble maker, I might do so and say, “I need to fill up the bubble maker with this special liquid soap. Up, up, up to the very top! That’s what we use to make the bubbles. After I fill it up, we’ll sing the bubble song, and then we’ll get to watch the bubbles float and pop!”  And at some point during all of this, I’ll throw in a quick aside that narrating what you’re doing is a great way to teach your baby vocabulary and teach them narrative skills, where you’re teaching them the steps to a process or the beginning, middle, and end of a story. By throwing in this tip after I've demonstrated what it looks like in action, caregivers realize that hey, they're already subconsciously doing this and have been teaching their children early literacy skills without even knowing!

Easy Does It

I also find parents really receptive to learning early literacy skills when you’re teaching them things that will make their day-to-day life as caregivers easier. Every preschool teacher and children’s librarian loves the clean-up song, and just about every new parent is thrilled to learn it and use it during clean-up time at home.  When we do certain tickles, fingerplays, or songs, I like to point out how a caregiver might use them at home. For instance, some of the rhymes or songs that name body parts are great to use during diaper changes or baths. I point out that doing so is reinforcing vocabulary. Other quiet songs and fingerplays are a great way to calm down or distract a baby during a diaper change. Not only are such things fun and a great way to bond with a child, they can also help ease difficult transitions like diaper changes or bedtime, AND teach early literacy skills by exposing a child to a rich variety of language. It’s a triple win!

And just as a surefire way to storytime failure is sharing a book or a song that you think you should rather than one you want to share, a surefire way to come off as preachy is to share early literacy tips you think you should rather than ones you are really personally excited about.  To me, it’s more about, “Hey, isn’t this a cool and fun way to interact with your child?” rather than “Experts say you need to do this and this and this….”   If you’re genuinely excited and passionate about sharing information, chances are your audience will be receptive!

Huge thanks to the other amazing children's librarians who organized this week's Early Literacy in Action blog tour! Check out Jbrary's post, and look on their site later today for a blog roundup! You can also follow #EarlyLitInAction on Twitter.


  1. Such great ideas! Thanks for sharing!

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