Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Adding an early literacy edge to your story times

The second edition of Every Child Ready to Read® @ your library® has given librarians a new lexicon for empowering parents and caregivers to help their children get ready to read. We now focus on the five practices: talking, singing, reading, writing, and playing. These five practices, I am happy to say, are so easy to sell to parents and caregivers. And that's the point: ECRR is first and foremost an initiative for parents and caregivers, who are children's first and best teachers. As librarians, our goal is to model these pro-literacy practices for parents and caregivers at every opportunity.

Last week my library district was fortunate to have the fabulous Christina Jones* visit our library to share some of her own in-library early literacy successes. Today I give you, with her permission, five of her suggestions for how you can boost the learning opportunities in the story times you already provide, thus upping their early literacy impact:

Talking -- Talking gives children opportunities to hear and practice fluent speech. In a story time setting, adding talking means adding oral storytelling. Put down the book and tell some stories! Start with familiar folk and fairy tales, and use a flannelboard if it makes you more comfortable.

Singing -- Sing! Sing at the beginning of story time, and again at the end! Sing in the middle! Singing slows down language and helps children hear the smaller sounds in words. It's also fun and repetitive, so children pick up on songs and make them their own. Plain rhymes are good, too, but singing really is the best. Always include songs.

Reading -- Obviously you are already doing some reading in your story times. But what is it that you're usually reading? Look over your last few programs--did you read any picture book non-fiction? You should. Not only will it engage and entertain the children in your program, but it will also help them develop larger vocabularies for understanding and navigating the world around them.

Writing -- This one is simple: blank page crafts. Leave plenty of room for creativity and expression in your story time crafts. That blank piece of paper can be the window looking down from the giant's castle in a Jack story time, a canvas for a map in a "lost and found" story time, or a myriad other things limited only by the child writing on it. Bonus: it requires no prep work.

Playing -- Keep your program room open for a little while following your story time and provide a space for children to play. Grab some blocks, play food, rubber balls--anything, really, that gives children opportunities to engage in free, unstructured play. Children will have fun, act out their understanding of the world, and interact socially; caregivers will get some de-stressing time with their peers. Everyone wins!

There you have it: five ways you can give your story times even more of an early literacy edge starting right away. I would love to hear what you do in your programs to model the best early literacy practices while ensuring children have a great time.

*Christina has some mad credentials: she is a Children's Services Reference Librarian at Monroe County Public Library in Bloomington, IN, and she teaches courses for the Schools of Library and Information Science at IU and IUPUI. She balances her on-the-ground early literacy-in-action work with knowledge of the research in the field. Basically, she's an early literacy rockstar and you should give her recommendations serious consideration.

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