Early Literacy Messages in Action

16 Jun

Fellow Early Literacy Evangelists (may I call you evangelists?),

Yesterday I did my first baby storytime in… well, years, and I had the opportunity to slip in a few early literacy messages that Early Literacy Messaging Graphicreally resonate with me. And I was super excited to do so. But I know that’s not always the case.

I am a 44-year-old childless librarian who ostensibly tells parents how to raise their kids without having any experience of my own. I know, awkward, right? I suppose it could be. I could be saying to myself: “Self, who are you to tell these parents that they should talk to their kids all the time to give the kids a big vocabulary? How do you know they aren’t already doing that and you’re just going to make them defensive? Aren’t they going to look at you and think ‘Don’t you tell me what to do!’

But I don’t, and here’s why: I, myself, am AMAZED by what I’ve learned about early literacy and brain development. I find it incredible that by simply talking and singing with babies, we can set them on a path for learning that will last their whole lives. I’m fascinated by the brain science – it takes a toddler 5 to 7 seconds to respond to a question because there are 4 different parts of the brain involved in hearing, processing, and speaking? Wow! Babies brains grow from 25% developed to 75% developed in the first year of life? Holy cow!

This is powerful, life-alerting (literally) stuff, and I just want everyone to know how easy it is to give young children the best future possible.

I work with parents who are both affluent and highly educated and those who are less so. Personally, I think everyone can learn something new about their child. I haven’t yet heard of a child born into this world with an owner’s manual, so I think lots of parents are just figuring things out. But the universal thread is that they ALL love their children and want the best for them, and simply by bringing them to the library for storytime, or to an outreach event for a parent presentation or play and learn group, they’re demonstrating that.

But I get that it’s challenging to feel like the “expert” in many situations where you DON’T know what parents already know. I’ve been thinking about this a lot, and I think tailoring your message to your audience helps a lot. If you’ve got parents whom you suspect already know about phonological awareness and rhyming games, maybe focus a little more on the brain science – they’re less likely to know all of that (heck, I have a master’s degree – and I didn’t know ANY of that until I started working as a librarian!). If you think your audience is parents who are simply struggling to get through the day, maybe offer a little praise for the good things they are doing (like bringing their kids to storytime) and encourage the simple activities, like singing in the car or talking while making dinner.

Here’s how I might (and do) share early literacy messages with parents who may or may not already know what I’m telling them:

  • I like to call the little one-or-two-sentence bits of information “early literacy reminders” instead of tips. That assumes that the parent already knows what you’re telling them – but don’t we all need to be reminded of things every now and then?
  • I try to present my “reminders” in such a way that demonstrates my genuine fascination with the information.
  • I’m always positive and never accusing or “YOU MUST DO THIS” in tone. I prefer to focus on what they already are doing and recognize it. Doesn’t everyone need a little praise, even for the little things?
  • I often tie my “reminder” into something I’m doing – a song, fingerplay, book, etc. For me, it helps me remember what I want to say AND makes it more specific.
  • I try and use humor if possible. I play on what I didn’t know before. If I didn’t know it, I’m pretty sure some of the parents don’t know and can’t we all discover together?
  • I rarely use more than one or two sentences. And never more than 2 “reminders” per storytime.
  • Avoid using the phrases “you should” or “you need to.” I know hearing those things really make me defensive, so why would I say them to other adults?
  • Transitions are a great time to slip in a “reminder.” We’re standing up; we’re passing out scarves; let’s talk about why movement is fun and important!
    • “Grown ups: fingerplays help little guys strengthen their fingers so that later they can hold a pencil and write. Isn’t that cool?
    • “Thank you for bringing your little ones to storytime today! We’re growing brains and when you share books at home you’re doing that too!”
    • “I love seeing how happy the babies are sharing songs with their grownups. Isn’t it neat that happy babies are better learners? You’re helping your baby learn right now!
    • (Before starting a new book): “This is one of my all-time favorite books. I bet your kids have their favorites too and want to hear them all the time! I know it’s not so much fun for grownups to repeat the same book, but it’s great for building literacy skills!
    • “I love to sing and it was so exciting for me to learn that singing helps with learning to read! Singing slows down words so that we can hear all the little sounds. That’s pretty neat!”
    • “Grownups: did you hear the word “insufferable” in that book? We’re growing our kids’ vocabularies when we share books!”

I know that adding early literacy reminders to storytime is a challenging task and can feel unnatural at first. But with practice, it WILL become easier. Trust me. REALLY. I swear. And it’s perfectly okay to plan your reminders in advance and write them on a sticky note or piece of paper. Practice with a colleague if you want some feedback on how something sounds.

In the long run, you’re doing SO MUCH GOOD by sharing this information with families. Even if one parent is bothered that you’ve stopped reading a book for 30 seconds to offer two sentences of brain development goodness, the majority, whether they already know what you’re saying or not, appreciate it.

This is a topic that resonates with a lot of us, so visit the Jbrary blog on Friday, June 19 for a roundup of ALL the “Early Literacy Messages in Action” posts that are happening this week! On twitter you can catch all the posts by following #EarlyLitInAction. You’ll find lots of great suggestions and “reminders” that you can use right away! And please – share your own “best practices” in the comments. I’m sure you’ve got ’em!

Now, GO FORTH AND BE AWESOME, you world-changers, you!

Don’t (DO!) be such a drama queen! Best picture books for a DRAMATIC storytime

8 Jun

I admit it. I am a giant ham. I LOVE playing for laughs in storytime. There’s nothing better than making a child (or a parent!) giggle so hard they can’t stop. I am proud to say I made a preschool teacher laugh so hard at my performance of I Want My Hat Back that she cried.  What more could a storytime provider want?

hat

Anyone else read the bear as completely deadpan?

To that end, a colleague and I are presenting a short program to our fellow storytime presenters on integrating drama into your storytime. My co-presenter is a former drama teacher, so she’s going to talk more about drama games and other activities beyond the book, but I’m focusing on making picture book readings more dramatic.

We’ve narrowed dramatic readings down to two categories:

  1. “Playing the dummy,” i.e. pretending like you don’t know what’s going to happen (and asking obvious questions of the listener) and being very surprised/confused/angry/happy when the story resolves, or
  2. Using the text and/or illustrations for clues on how to read the story. For example, if a character looks like he’s crying, read the text in a sad voice. If the text is bolded, obviously that’s a word or phrase you need to emphasize. Use your body to mimic what the character is feeling or saying!

Here’s the list of books that really lend themselves to dramatic readings. I’m sure there are many, many more. Please share your favorites in the comments!

Bark, George by Jules Feiffer

There’s a Monster at the End of This Book by Jon Stone

Book with No Pictures by BJ Novak

The Doghouse by Jan Thomas

A Splendid Friend Indeed by Suzanne Bloom

Harry Hungry by Stephen Salerno

Dinosaur vs. Bedtime by Bob Shea

Wolfie the Bunny by Ame Dykeman

Interrupting Chicken by David Stein

I Want My Hat Back by Jon Klassen

The Watermelon Seed by Greg Pizzoli

Llama Llama Red Pajama by Anna Dewdney

Leonardo the Terrible Monster by Mo Willems

Rhyming Dust Bunnies by Jan Thomas

Grumpy Bird by Jeremy Tankard

Caps for Sale by Esphyr Slobodkina

Froggy Gets Dressed by Jonathan London

Little Mouse, The Red Ripe Strawberry, and the Big Hungry Bear by Audrey Wood

A Visitor for Bear by Bonny Becker

Mortimer by Robert Munsch

Moo by David Larochelle

Banana! by Ed Vere

A Pet for Petunia by Paul Schmid

Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus by Mo Willems

Punk Farm by Jarrett J. Krosoczka

Shark in the Park by Nick Sharratt

An update y una invitación a bailar!

24 Apr

Wow. It’s been…like, 6 months since I last blogged, and I apologize for that. I’m a little over 1 year into a new job with more responsibility, more supervising, and fewer storytimes, and that has meant a lot of learning and doing and figuring out. I’m definitely feeling settled now and enjoying my work as an early literacy department head, but still don’t find as many opportunities to blog. I do miss it. I will try harder (famous last words, I know).

Meanwhile, I wanted to share with you something I learned about this week. A former co-worker from my old library put me on to this Boulder, CO-based band: Basho & Friends. Talk about FUN music! It’ll get you moving and dancing and maybe even learning some new words – in Spanish, French, or Chinese! I do some Spanish-language and bilingual storytimes and I think some of these songs would be PERFECT movement activities. I especially like this one and intend to use it soon!:

¡Baila y disfruta!

¡El Pollo!; aka, the most fun movement activity en español EVER.

10 Sep

Some of the best storytime activities are the simplest. This is one of them. It basically names the parts of the chicken, rhythmically. I tried it out with my new class of Spanish-only kiddos and they LOVED it. LOVED.

I learned it from my colleague Alberto, and here’s a video of him performing it:

This is the text:

El pollo! (clap hands together)

El pollo con una pata (step one foot forward)

El pollo con la otra pata (step other foot forward)

El pollo con su piquito (hand in front of mouth like beak)

El pollo con sus alitas (move arms like wings)

El pollo con su colita (turn around and shake tail)

The rhyme doesn’t work as well in English, but it can be done. Here’s Alberto again:

And the words:

The chicken! (clap hands together)

The chicken with one leg (step one foot forward)

The chicken with the other leg (step other foot forward)

The chicken with his beak (hand in front of mouth like beak)

The chicken with his wings (move arms like wings)

The chicken shakes his tail (turn around and shake tail)

You can do it again faster, slower, and without words. It’s a good time! ¡Que disfruten!

Puppets! An Early Literacy Tool.

3 Aug

I love puppets. I am fortunate enough to have a nice collection of puppets to use in my children’s librarian work, and the kids I get to share them with really enjoy interacting with them. Puppets are a GREAT early literacy skills builder:

  • In my experience, children often interact with puppets in a different way than they do with adults. They seem to
    puppets

    Puppets and friends.

    more readily talk to them – and sort of look on them as a peer.  By sharing with a puppet, children use and build their language skills.

  • Children can play with puppets and use them to tell stories. Again, this develops language and vocabulary. Children also learn about story structure – that stories have beginnings, middles, and ends. Adults playing with a child can help by elaborating on what a child says and using a variety of words.
  • Have the puppets sing a song or, if you’ve got 5 little monkey puppets, help chant a rhyme! This develops phonological awareness skills (breaking words up in to smaller sounds) which helps later with sounding out words.
  • Children can use puppets to re-tell a story, demonstrating skills like sequencing (what happens next?) and comprehension.
  • Children playing with puppets are growing their imaginations.

Here’s a great article from School Library Journal about using puppets in library storytimes and the early literacy skills kids are developing.

But puppets like some of the lovely ones I have at the library are EXPENSIVE! What can you do if you don’t have the funds to grow a great puppet collection? Here are a few ideas that don’t require lots of money OR great sewing/crafting skills:

  • Envelope puppets! Seal an envelope, cut it in half, draw a face on the plain side, and stick your hand in! Voilá! Instant puppet (see pig puppet in pic above). Dr. Jean has an example with a cool echo poem you can recite with them.  And I originally got this idea from No Time For Flashcard’s post.
  • Stick puppets! Collect all those popsicle sticks from summer and wash ‘em off. Cut out a picture from a magazine, print a picture off the internet, or draw your own and stick it on the…uh…stick. Done! Here are some printable images to use for a stick puppet retelling of the Very Busy Spider by Eric Carle.
  • Sock puppets! Now THERE’S something you can do with all of those lonesome socks that have lost their mates. Draw on some eyes and a nose, or glue on some bits of felt or paper, and you’ve got a character.
  • Pipe cleaner puppets! Curl a pipe cleaner around your finger, stick a pom-pom on top, add some googly eyes, and you’re done! See my piggy in the picture above for my quickly-made example.  PS: I found pom-poms and googly
    QUACK! QUACK QUACK!

    QUACK! QUACK QUACK!

    eyes at the dollar store. So this CAN be a very inexpensive puppet project.

  • Who says puppets have to actually be puppets? If your child has a stuffed animal or six, make them talk! Ask your child to give his favorite stuffed friend a voice, and ask that friend questions! What does Theodore Bear like to eat? Where is his favorite place to eat it? Can Theodore Bear tell you the story of his family?

There are LOTS more ideas for creating inexpensive puppets that I’ll be sharing in future posts. Do YOU have any great puppet ideas (either for using them with kids or making them) you’d like to share? Please do! I’m all ears!

Fill ‘er Up!

1 Aug

Here’s another blast from the Revolution Read Aloud past…:

Over the past couple of weekends I’ve been training, with a colleague, future library volunteers on how to perform a successful storytime. Included in that training is some basic early literacy information, so that volunteers will understand the importance of what they’re doing and what children are getting out of it (and why we do the things we do – fingerplays, flannelboards, age-appropriate stories, etc.).

Image

My colleague used an analogy that I really like, and I thought I’d share it with you.  She said that children hearing stories are filling up their “word reservoirs” – so that they’ll have all those words to use in the future. We often talk about the idea of young children as sponges, soaking up experiences to learn about the world around them. Well, to continue her analogy, some of what they’re soaking up is getting wrung out into their word reservoir.

Let’s help our kids fill their reservoirs to the brim by reading lots of stories and talking to them all the time!

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.

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