What is a Read Aloud Revolution

12 Jul

As I start the process of moving the posts from my early literacy blog over here, I think it’s only fitting that I start with the one that explains WHY I’m starting a read aloud revolution:

The idea for a “read aloud revolution” first began at work. As you know, I’m a children’s librarian who has worked primarily with preschoolers, and in recent years, through my job, have learned a lot about how children learn to read. My interest was really piqued, though, when the Association of Library Services to Children (ALSC – a division of the American Library Association) and the Public Library Association (PLA) teamed up to create a curriculum that librarians could use to learn about, and incorporate, more early literacy skills development in their storytimes. It was also designed to help librarians educate parents about early literacy and what parents, as a child’s first teacher, could do at home. This was a revolutionary concept for some librarians – breaking that 4th wall in storytime and speaking directly to parents in order to share “early literacy tips” with them – and it was a difficult idea for many of us to get our minds around. Our storytimes have ALWAYS incorporated early literacy learning (the acts of reading a story aloud, singing songs, doing fingerplays and reciting rhymes build language skills, storytelling skills, comprehension skills, and, most importantly, a love of books and stories), but the idea that we were EXPERTS in early literacy, and had something to teach parents, was new.

For some reason unknown to me, I quickly embraced the idea. I think it was in part due to the excitement I felt when I learned how EASY it could be to prepare a child to learn to read, but how IMPORTANT it was to begin early. Early literacy became my passion. I started working with a group called Colorado Libraries for Early Literacy where I was able to share ideas for promoting early literacy learning in the library and learn more about the brain development of the young child. And as I learned more and more, I became more passionate about sharing the information with… well, EVERYONE.  Truly, my friends with children can’t get me to shut up.

A few years ago I was asked to speak to a group of community leaders. It was an annual awards ceremony, and the theme they had chosen for the year was “literacy.” I was honored to be chosen, and as I worked on my speech, a theme began to take root: a read aloud revolution. The idea that we can CHANGE THE WORLD if everyone knows how important it is to read aloud with and talk to young children. And DOES it. And passes the word along.  Here’s the text of that speech, with a few minor alterations:

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I am here to start a revolution.  A revolution that will change the world, one child at a time, and it begins today and with all of you! A read aloud revolution!

Why do we need to start a read aloud revolution? What IS a read-aloud revolution?  I would like to share a passage from the book Reading Magic by Mem Fox.  You many have heard of Fox, she’s the author of many wonderful picture books, including Time for BedWombat Divine, and Ten Little Fingers, Ten Little Toes.  She’s also become a well-respected expert in the area of early literacy, speaking on the importance of reading aloud to children. In Reading Magic, she writes:

“In 1975 our daughter, Chloe, came home from school in a state of excitement and said, “I can read!”  She was four years old and had been at school for two weeks.  We smiled indulgently as parents do when they think their child is cute.  Read? She had to be joking.

She ran to her room and came back with The Foot Book by Dr. Seuss, one of her favorites at the time, and read it to us word for word, with expression.  We were beside ourselves.

But could she really read? We had read that book to her so many times, we thought she might have memorized it. We hesitated, not wanting to dampen her wild enthusiasm, then bravely opened the book at random to see if she could read a page by itself, without reciting the whole book by rote from the beginning.  She read that page, and another page at random, and another.

At the time, I was a college professor teaching drama.  I knew nothing about the teaching of reading.  In my eyes I was “only” a mother.  I rushed to Chloe’s school the next morning and told her teacher what had happened.

“What did you do?” I asked, agog.  “What method did you use? It’s a miracle!”

“I didn’t do much,” she said.  “How could I? She’s only been in my class for two weeks.  You must have read to her often before she came to school.”

“Of course,” I said.

“Well, there you go,” said the teacher, as if that were that.

When I first read this passage in Fox’s book, I had to stop and consider.  Is it really as simple as that?  C’mon.  Reading aloud with kids is fun for them, sure, and they learn something, and it’s a nice way to settle them down before bedtime, but will the simple act of sharing books with a child, every day, cause a child to learn to read?

Here’s a revolutionary fact I’ve learned: YES, it really is AS SIMPLE AS THAT. Children who are read to, regularly, from birth, become readers.  By hearing stories read aloud and using books, they develop important early literacy skills such as how to use and recognize print, an awareness of phonics sounds, and learn how to identify letter shapes and sounds.  They grow their vocabularies and become able to tell stories and predict what will happen next.  If a child has developed this early literacy foundation, he or she will have an easier time learning to read.

But don’t take my word for it.  According to a report by the National Institute for Literacy, a federal government agency, “The years from birth through age 5 are a critical time for children’s development and learning. Learning to read begins well before children enter school.”  A 2009 report entitled “America’s Early Childhood Literacy Gap,” commissioned by the non-profit early literacy organization Jumpstart, states that

Cognitive development is the product of two interacting influences – brain growth and experience – both of which exert their greatest impact during the first five years of life.  The developing brain triples in the first year alone and is virtually fully formed by the time a child enters kindergarten.  This period is critical and sets the stage for all of later learning and adult functioning.

What does this mean?  It means that what we do for a child in the first five years of their life sets the stage for that child’s future educational success.  In fact, this same report states that: “studies by the Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University show that of 50 children having trouble learning to read in Kindergarten, 44 of them will still be having trouble in third grade.”  In other words, children who start behind, stay behind.  They do not catch up.  They WILL probably NEVER catch up – not in 3rd grade, not in 7th grade, not in 12th grade.

In addition to all the brain development and early literacy skills learning that goes along with reading aloud to children, there’s the added benefit of the warm, safe, happy feeling that comes along with snuggling in a loved one’s arms and sharing a book.  Children need to associate reading and books with happy times in their lives. The children I read to get excited when I walk through the door with new books. They greet me with hugs and yells of “Miss Mary!” They ask, “did you bring us new books?” and when we’ve finished a story, they often as me to “read another book”. Now, I don’t have any magic formula for reading aloud that gets kids to listen.  I merely make sure that we are always having fun.  For me, that means occasionally crying like a dinosaur, but that’s another story.

Think for a moment about something you hate to do. I HATE folding laundry.  I put off folding laundry far too long, because I just don’t enjoy it. I’m not motivated to do it, and that’s why I put it off.  Now think of something you LOVE to do.  I happen to love to bake – cookies, especially.  So when it’s time to bake, I jump up, get out the ingredients, and get to work! I’m motivated, because I enjoy the process!  It’s the same thing for children learning to read.  If books and reading are fun for them, because they’ve been exposed to regular and repeated positive experiences with books like snuggling up with mom or dad at bedtime or attending a really engaging library storytime, they’ll be motivated to learn to read on their own.  Hey!  Books are fun! I want to learn how to read them on my own!  If they’re motivated, they’ll practice reading. And the more they practice, the easier it gets.  The easier it gets, the more they’ll read.

Librarians and teachers know reading aloud to children is important and will dramatically affect a child’s educational future. Many government and non-profit agencies know it is important.  But children don’t spend a lot of time with teachers or librarians or government agencies in their first 5 years of life, when all of this critical brain development and early literacy learning is happening.  So it is MOST important that those who are a child’s first teacher, the parents and caregivers, know how important it is to share books and stories and words with young children – early and often.  I know you’re thinking: “everybody knows that reading aloud to kids is important! This isn’t anything revolutionary!” Perhaps we DO know. But are we following through? Are we turning off the tv, sitting down with our children, and reading?

The answer is: not as much as we should be. 37% of children are still starting kindergarten unprepared to learn to read.   The read-aloud deficit is even greater in lower income areas, where children are less likely to have access to books or to be read to by a parent or caregiver.  A report by the Packard and MacArthur Foundations found that children growing up in middle income families have had, on average, 1000 to 1700 hours of one-on-one read aloud time.  Children in low income families, however, have only been exposed to, on average, 25 hours.  25 HOURS.  This is a frightening disparity.

So, what can we do to bridge this gap and ensure that ALL young children are entering kindergarten prepared to learn to read?  Well, in my view, two important things need to be happening: First: We need to be reading to, and talking to, our young children, starting from birth.  Second: we need to make sure all children have access to books.

Libraries can do some things, and schools and teachers (especially the amazing Head Start and Preschool teachers) do so much already to encourage early literacy.  But every one of you can have a major impact on the educational future of the children in your community by doing a few simple things: Talk to anyone and everyone who will listen about how important it is to read to young children.  Give books as gifts. Visit the library, borrow books, and ask the librarians for recommendations of great read alouds.  Support, financially, with your time, or in any other way you can programs that educate parents about the importance of reading with their kids and get books into those kids’ hands, like Reach Out and Read, and the Jefferson County Library Foundation.  Most importantly, talk to, share books with, and READ to the young children in your life.

I read a statement on a t-shirt recently that I think is the perfect battle cry for our read-aloud revolution:

Read Early.

Read Often.

Read Always.

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So. There it is. The read aloud revolution that I want to start begins with you: parents, caregivers, teachers, librarians, ANYBODY who cares about children and their success. Together, we CAN change the world.

Apologies and Changes

5 Jul

Hello, friends. I’ve been AWOL from this blog for FAR too long, and for that, I apologize.

In March I started a new job as an Early Literacy Senior Specialist in a new library system. I wasn’t looking to leave my old job or library, but this position was too great an opportunity to pass up. Early literacy, especially parent education, is my PASSION, and this position offers the opportunity to have some significant influence in that area. So I left my old job, and almost 14 years at my old library, behind for this new challenge. And it has been challenging, but in a good way.

hoorayWhat this new opportunity means, though, is FAR fewer storytimes. In fact, right now, I’m doing ZERO. I went from performing close to 80 storytimes per month to NONE. Weird, yes, but honestly, I was a bit burned out. I still love children’s picture books, and sharing them with young children, and all the learning that goes along with that, but I needed a break.

So, the bad news is – I have very little new to share, storytime-wise. The GOOD news is – I will be doing storytimes weekly for one preschool classroom starting in the fall as a part of my library’s outreach program, which my department runs. So I will be getting back on the storytime saddle.

The other good news, I hope, is that I am going to give up my other blog, Read Aloud Revolution, which I have also been neglecting, and fold its content into this blog. So Miss Mary Liberry will become not only a storytime blog but also an early literacy blog. I will share ideas that parents can use to get their children engaged in books and reading, as well as general musings on early literacy, brain development, and parent engagement. I hope this continues to be useful to you.

 

I have to share one thing I’m VERY proud of that’s already come out of my new job. My library is a partner in an early literacy advocacy collaborative, and I’m doing a lot of work on the project. In June we finally went live with our website: Earlier is Easier. It contains simple activities for parents to do with their young children organized within the practices READ, TALK, SING, WRITE, PLAY, and LAUGH. Soon we hope to have the funding to market the site and its information to parents via bus ads, billboards, PSAs, etc. – we want to get the message out to all parents of children birth through 3 in the city of Denver! We will also have a social media presence, and…who knows what else. Please feel free to share the website with anyone you think might be interested!

So, changes. And apologies for my absence. Hope you’re still reading!

-Miss Mary

PS:  That book up there? Hooray for Hat? It’s awesome. You should get it.

Flannel Friday: B-U-N-N-Y

7 Feb

Like most of the country, it’s been really freakin’ cold here in Colorado this week. What that means for me, the preschool outreach librarian, is that the kids I see in storytime have not been able to play outside. THIS IS A BAD THING. Kids need recess. They need to run around. Young children, especially, get super squirrelly when they have to be inside too long.

So, when I was planning my rabbit-themed storytime (centered primarily around Bob Shea’s Don’t Play With Your Food, because he sent me a copy!), I knew I had to include some movement. Now, I know, I’m a big fan of the Sleeping Bunnies song that involves some wild and crazy hopping. But we did that last month. So.

This is a very long way of saying I stole Mollie Kay’s B-U-N-N-Y song and added hopping.

bunny

We talk about each letter and its sound, and then we sound out the word. BUNNY!

(Sung to the tune of B-I-N-G-O)

There was a rabbit I once knew

And Bunny was his name-o

B-U-N-N-Y

B-U-N-N-Y

B-U-N-N-Y

And bunny was his name-o

Next, we turn over the first letter. What’s on the back? A bunny! And the word HOP.

bunny4

So, we sing again, this time substituting a hop for the letter B.

Continue turning each letter and singing, until you’re left with nothing but hops. HOP! HOP! HOPHOPHOP!

bunny3This was a great movement activity that incorporated letter knowledge, letter sounds, phonological awareness, and just plain FUN.  It’s also very similar to the version of B-I-N-G-O that I use!

Thanks, Mollie, for the idea!

The Roundup today will be hosted by Christine. Go check out all the awesomeness later! To see all past flannels, click the “flannel friday” icon to the right.

Happy flanneling!

Flannel Friday: Kitty Cat, Kitty Cat, Are You In The Blue Hat?

17 Jan

One of my most popular flannels has been Baby Duck, Baby Duck. I’ve also used the traditional Little Mouse version (that actually RHYMES)  to great success. So, here’s another. Because, WHY NOT?

The game goes like this: I put the hats up on the board, and we talk about their colors. We might even talk about who uses some of the hats (cowboy, builder, baseball player, etc). Then the kids close their eyes while I hide a kitty cat behind one of the hats (if he hasn’t already been hidden). We take turns choosing colors and then saying:

“Kitty cat, kitty cat, are you in the [color] hat?”

Holy over-exposure, batman! Oh well. You get the idea.

Holy over-exposure, batman! Oh well. You get the idea.

I whip the hat off the board and…*gasp!*…he’s there! Or he isn’t. 

Hi, little kitty!

Hi, little kitty!

The kids LOVE this game. They feel great when they find him but don’t suffer any great hard feelings when they don’t. Make sure you either have enough pieces for everyone to have a turn, or are willing to re-hide the cat if he’s found so that everyone has a turn. And EXPLAIN that you’re going to do this at the beginning. EVERYONE must get a turn or there will be ugly crying. And who wants that?

I’m not the best artist, but if you want to use my hats, here’s a photocopy of them: KittyCatHat

Today’s flannel roundup (floundup?) will be hosted by Kathryn. For all past flannels, click the pinterest link to the right.

Happy flanneling!

Flannel Friday: Going on a Picnic

22 Nov

I have to credit Melissa for this one as she was super generous in sharing her library system’s storytime training plans with me when my library was revising ours recently. This flannel is a part of that plan. So I’ve only used it as a training tool, but can certainly work in storytime! You’d probably need a few more pieces of food, though…

This is intended to be used with Raffi’s song “Going on a Picnic”, although he mentions different food. But it’s a great call-and-response song that can be easily learned by the whole group.

Put the picnic basket up on the board. Hand out flannel food pieces to the audience (only do this if you have enough for EVERY CHILD). Tell the group, we’re going on a picnic so we need to fill our picnic basket with yummy food!

Going on a picnic, leaving right away.

If it doesn’t rain we’ll stay all day.

Call: Did you bring the …. [strawberries]

Response: Yes, I brought the … [strawberries] (child brings strawberry up and puts it on the picnic basket)

etc….

picnic2

Continue until all the felt foods are in the picnic basket.  Next is your opportunity to really grow those early literacy skills. Talk about how two of the foods have words on them – Juice and Jam – and run your finger under the words. Notice how “juice” and “jam” both start with the letter J, that makes a “juh” sound. Ask the kids what color the strawberry is.  What else on the board is red? What color is the cheese? Why does the cheese have holes? It’s SWISS cheese. Ask the kids about their favorite picnic foods.

picnic

We used this in our storytime training to demonstrate how we extend early literacy skills learning – talking about letter knowledge, background knowledge (colors, cheese words, picnic words), etc. I’m hoping to find the time to make more foods and really use this in my food storytime! What fun! I love picnics!

The roundup today will be hosted by Bridget. To see all past flannels organized for your easy access on pinterest, click the icon on the right side of the screen.

Happy Flanneling!

Go! Bananas! Go! Go! Bananas!

7 Nov

On Monday I read Miss Amy’s wonderful post about rhymes to use when your storytime group gets the wiggles. I especially liked how she divided them by wiggle-level – low, medium, and high – and the great rhymes she shared. It was especially timely as that afternoon I was co-teaching a
Bananastorytime training, and part of our curriculum was on dealing with disruptions – like the wiggles. I printed copies of the post and shared them with all attendees. Thanks, Amy!

One of the songs she mentions is the one that begins “form a banana…” and it reminded me of one I heard from a friend at Denver Public Library. I went looking online for that one, and instead found this gem. I’ve since used it with several classes and it’s been a hit with both kids and teachers. Love that it includes the word “shuck” – yay for new vocabulary! Plus, it’s just darn fun (and this woman gets an A+ for enthusiasm!) – the mashed potato part is my fave!:

What’s in a Name?

2 Nov

When I was born, my parents named me Katie. Well, okay, technically  they named me Mary (that’s what’s on my birth certificate) but always intended to call me Katie. That was back in the days when lots of girls were named Mary Chris, Mary Pat, Mary This, Mary That… but weren’t actually called Mary. So, until I was 5, everyone called me Katie.

Then Kindergarten happened. And my 5-year-old self informed the teacher that my name was Mary and I was to be called that. I then proceeded to make everyone else I knew begin calling me Mary instead of Katie. Why did I decide to change my name? I have no idea what was going on in my young brain, but as an adult I’ve speculated that it’s because we’d recently moved to Denver and lived almost next door to a family with two twin girls – one of whom was named Katie. Strangely enough, her real name was also Mary Something.

I’ve been Mary ever since. Kudos to my family for going along with my self-inflicted name change.

Why am I telling you all of this? Because it kind of relates to why one of my katyfavorite books growing up was Katy and the Big Snow by Virginia Lee Burton. Oh, how I loved the story of Katy, the bulldozer/snow plow who did her work in the City of Geopolis and saved the day one particularly snowy winter. I adored the detailed illustrations with maps of the town so that I could follow Katy’s route as she made it safe for the mail carrier to continue his route and the doctor to get his patient to the hospital. But most of all, I loved that Katy and I shared the same name (albeit a slightly different spelling).

lolaFinding yourself (or even just your name) in a children’s book is a powerful thing.  Each year, I am fortunate enough to be able to gift each child whom I visit in my preschool outreach a brand new book. As the kids in one class were making their selections, one young lady saw Anna Quinn’s Lola at the Library. The book features an adorable, smiling African-American child as she makes her regular visit to the library. The young lady pointed at the book, eyes wide, and said “I want THAT one.” What made this encounter so powerful? The girl who chose the book looked EXACTLY like Lola in the story. Right down to the pigtails.

Children need to feel like they are important and have worth, and seeing yourself and your story reflected in a book provides some measure of that. Just as I was proud to share a name with hero snowplow Katy, my young book selector probably was proud to see that she, or a child that looked like her, could be the star of her own story.

What story are YOU the star of? Are there any books that made you think “hey, that’s me!”?

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