Monday, January 18, 2016

Let's Talk! Babies Need Words Every Day - The Blog Tour

Hello, friends and fellow literacy warriors! I'm pleased as punch to be participating in Day 1 of the Babies Need Words Every Day Blog Tour.

In case you'd like a refresher, Babies Need Words Every Day is an ALSC initiative with the impetus to help libraries help families to reduce the 30 million word gap--that is, the massive gap in the number of words that a typical child from a lower socio-economic status (or SES) household hears as compared to a typical child in a higher SES*. And ALSC, with the hard work of their Early Childhood Programs & Services Committee, created 8 beautiful posters (in both English and Spanish) that cheerily invite parents with young children to engage in talking, reading, singing, and playing that will, as a result, facilitate a greater sharing of words with their children.

It's my pleasure today to talk about one of the posters focused on "Talk." And boy am I happy to do so, because my favorite early literacy messages of all time--in storytimes, in parent engagement programs, and to early childhood educators--are about all of the amazing things we can help children accomplish simply by talking to and with them. When we talk to and with children, they hear and learn new words. They are introduced to new concepts. They become able to piece together facts that they understand separately to form a fuller picture of the world they inhabit. They become able to make analogies to understand both concrete and abstract concepts. And they develop the tools to express themselves. All such major milestones in literacy development.

Did you know that "talk" doesn't necessarily get a huge amount of play in today's early childhood education landscape? A recent article in The Atlantic talked about the differences between typical preschool programs and the really high-quality ones--and illustrated that high-quality interactions do not have to be synonymous with high-cost programs. Whereas many programs focus on learning words for the sake of learning words, the best embrace the learning that comes from free talking and conversation:
"The real focus in the preschool years should be not just on vocabulary and reading, but on talking and listening. We forget how vital spontaneous, unstructured conversation is to young children’s understanding. By talking with adults, and one another, they pick up information. They learn how things work. They solve puzzles that trouble them." -Erika Christakis
So when I talk to caregivers about the importance of talk, I emphasize talking for the sake of learning--conversation for the sake of concept-building. Parents, especially those with very young, pre-talking children, can feel awkward talking to their little ones. Many think it feels silly to chatter on with and ask questions of their infant, especially anywhere in public. But it's so beneficial! I am always emphasizing the simple, language-building ways that a parent can talk with their child. That's one reason why I love the koala poster you see here: it's got a simple, adaptable rhyme. When a parent receives or sees this poster, they can learn the rhyme: "Way up high in the apple tree / Two little apples smiled at me / I shook that tree as hard as I could / Down came the apples / Mmmmmm--were they good!" That's a fun, simple rhyme to get a conversation started, say, at the grocery store. But it's also a template for more conversations. Substitute apples for your child's favorite food when you say the rhyme. Talk about things that grow on trees and where other foods come from. Talk about why things fall down. TALK!

I encourage you to encourage the caregivers in your library and your community in the same ways. Print off the posters that you think will most appeal to your community (who wouldn't love the gorgeous artwork by Il Sung Na??). Hang them in your library, or hand them out at storytimes. At the very least, challenge yourself to have a conversation with caregivers about each of the practices emphasized by Babies Need Words Every Day.

Families need library workers who know that babies need words every day. Be that library worker! Check out all of the stops on the Babies Need Words Every Day Blog Tour for lots of resources and ideas.

How do you talk about talk in your library?

*Yes, it's true that bridging this gap alone will likely not completely solve all the problems--those 30 million fewer words are likely a correlation to a lower kindergarten readiness and reading achievement, not a causation. But study after study shows that efforts to increase early literacy through talking/vocabulary/background knowledge are, in fact, successful. The way I see it, Babies Need Words Every Day is an awfully impactful, low-effort tool to help us do just that.


  1. So awesome to read what my fellow "talker" had to say - and so beautifully said! ::high five::

  2. We have had a bulletin board in our play area at the Duluth Public library with 5 of the posters and "Babies Need Words Everyday" in large bold letters for about a month now. We talk about it at our storytimes as well. I hope we are making an impact. Thanks for the reminder!

  3. Thank you for this wise advice. I've just started a baby storytime and find it awkward to talk to the babies, especially in front of an audience. Your post gives me the confidence to know I'm doing the right thing, and to know I'm being a good role model for the adults in the room. Now I'm going to read the rest of the posts!

  4. I will be taking over a baby storytime this summer. I'm going to use these posters (hang on the wall & to guide my storytime themes) to help me get started. Thanks!


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