This post is part of a blog tour discussing the use of early literacy messages in storytime and other early literacy programs. Each stop on the tour will include practical information for ways to include messages and why we feel it is important to do so. The tour round up can be found on jbrary.com on Friday, June 19th.
I’m going to start with the why. For many of us, and for many caregivers, reading, talking, singing and playing with children is natural. Why wouldn’t we do those things? Not everyone gets it. They understand their child will need to learn how to read and write. Which might include the alphabet and numbers and learning how to sit still. This knowledge might have brought them to your storytime. Where they believe all the learning about reading and writing will happen for their child.
We know better. What a child sees and hears in a storytime will not make them readers alone. It will help, sure, but to truly develop all the skills they will need for learning to read and write in school, they will need their caregivers to continue reading, singing, talking, playing, and writing with them outside the library. Some caregivers already know this and their knowledge and actions will be affirmed when we talk about early literacy in storytime. Those who don’t might hear just the thing to spur them into sharing an extra book this week and singing a song at the bus stop next week and talking about all the things they see in the grocery store the week after that. Maybe not. But wouldn’t it be better to share our knowledge? Because it could be just what they needed.
I often hear concerns that sharing messages will sound preachy or like a lecture. It really doesn’t have to, and in my opinion, it shouldn’t. If it feels like school you’re doing it wrong. The key to success for me (everyone has their own style hence the blog tour!) is being enthusiastic and conversational.
From the moment a patron walks into the storytime room I engage with them. “Hello! How are you today? Please give yourselves nametags (these are for caregivers AND children) and then you can join me on the storytime rug with all these books!” Every participant gets basically the same welcome. Even if I’m in the middle of an enthralling board book on colors, I look up long enough to welcome them to the room.
This creates a welcoming, comfortable environment. Newcomers and old timers alike hopefully feel as though they belong the moment they set foot in the room. They like this feeling, and in turn, they like me for making sure they never had a chance to feel awkward (oh my goodness, what do I do, do we get a nametag, do we go sit down, where do we sit, ACK).
When I first began delivering messages in storytime I would write notes to myself on a sticky note and stick it to the back of a book. For example, if I was singing a book that day my note might say “Song books for short attention span, helps break up and slow language so easier to hear parts of words, vocab, calming, rhyming, quit when not interested or keep singing.” I would not address all the parts of this but the note helped me remember some key talking points so that when I was at a good place to give a message I didn’t have to think so hard about what to say. That message might come out as “When you share song books like this one at home you are helping expand your child’s vocabulary. So many synonyms for “twinkle!” Plus, song books are great for toddlers because when they wander away from you you can just keep singing, or ditch the book completely without interrupting a story.”
Now that I am more familiar with early literacy principles I don’t write notes and my messages are a little more conversational and don’t always happen during a book. I especially love talking to caregivers during transitions. That way I don’t lose them if I turn around to grab something AND I can explain what is so great about the next activity in regards to early literacy. It might look like this:
“Ok, it’s time to sing Twinkle Twinkle! Now, I’m going to play on the ukulele so I am going to need you all to twinkle your fingers, like this, since I won’t be able to. Grownups, we do fingerplays and other activities with fingers with our kids because it helps build the muscles necessary for writing later on. *play and sing a verse* Ok, now who knows another word for “twinkle?” Flicker! Yes! You remembered from the book we shared last week! Ok, now let’s flicker our fingers. Flicker extra for me while I play. Great! Grownups, you can change lots of songs to include new and interesting words to help build your child’s vocabulary. You might even learn some new words yourself!”
This gets me lots more head nods and feedback than the old way ever did. Not only do they trust me and like me because I have been nothing but welcoming from the start, but I’m including them in the entire experience rather than being the talking head at the front of the class. They are having fun when I talk to them about early literacy so they are more likely to remember what I’m saying. After storytime a few weeks ago a mother asked “Do you have any suggestions for songs that would be good for changing the words to?” So, she heard the message! And we developed a deeper relationship.
Moral of the story: know your stuff, be open and welcoming from the beginning, and HAVE FUN! Relationships and trust will develop quickly. Enthusiasm is contagious so be excited to share what you know!