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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!

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.

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.

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!”?

And Now for Something Completely Different (but totally related)

29 Mar

I’m not going to have a Flannel Friday post this week. I’m actually hanging out for a few days in a small town a few hours from Denver, getting a little R & R, and doing a lot of reading and thinking. One of the things I’ve been thinking about a lot, and am trying to get started this week, is a second blog – one that focuses exclusively on early literacy: What it is, and how we, as librarians, caregivers, teachers, parents, and those generally interested in creating a literate society, can do to support children as they’re developing the tools to learn to read. I want to share book ideas, activities, research, information, and inspiration. Early literacy learning is something I’ve become super passionate about over the past several years as I’ve discovered how easy it is be to get children aged 0 to 5 prepared to learn to read and how important it is that we do so.  I know I share a lot of early literacy information in this blog, but it’s centered around my storytime work and there’s lots of cool stuff I DON’T share here.

I gave a speech about this very topic several years ago, and I called it “A Read Aloud Revolution.”

So, I’m ready to start this blog, but I need a name. Read Aloud Revolution is the obvious choice, but it’s taken (and a wonderful

Rhyming Dust Bunnies by Jan Thomas

blog in its own right, about continuing to read aloud to children as they grow into their tweens and teens – almost an extension of what I’m hoping to do). So, as that’s not an option, and I don’t want to step on the toes of this fine family’s mission. Help me out, people – what should I name the blog? I want something related to the idea that reading aloud to children can change the world. I’ve saved the name “Revolution Read Aloud”, so it could be that. “Reading Aloud is Revolutionary” seems to long for a blog address. So, let me have ’em – your best ideas, and I’ll be sure to give you credit.

All those who enjoy my Flannel Friday, storytime, and preschooler antics posts (thank you!) fear not, I do intend to keep this blog going as home to my librarian-centered stuff. The second blog will relate, but will not be focused so much on my library job. I hope it will be informative to lots of different folks.

Thanks in advance for helping a girl out!

 

Flannel Friday: The Mitten by Jan Brett

9 Dec

I’m pretty sure most of us know and have shared Jan Brett’s wonderful book The Mitten with our storytime kids. It really is a delightful winter tale, with opportunities for prediction and detailed illustrations. It is the details in the illustrations that may make it difficult to share this Ukranian folktale with a large group (they won’t be able to see the details well or focus on the important stuff), so why not turn the story into a flannelboard? Jan Brett herself makes this easy as she provides pdf drawings of both a large mitten and the animals in the story, so that kids can help you fill the mitten. Here’s mine:

Mitten! 2 layers of sparkly, snow-white felt.

Animals!

And finally, the mitten, brimming with animals (okay, not really. You could make multiples of the animals for a larger group and they would fit. It’s a BIG mitten!

This would also make a great take-home craft after sharing the book in storytime; kids could re-tell the story from memory, which is a great early literacy booster!

Other versions of The Mitten folktale: by Jim Aylesworth (illustrated by Barbara McClintock) and by Alvin Tresselt.

Please visit Mrs. D. at Putting Smiles on Faces for the full Flannel Friday Roundup!  And click the icon to the right to visit our Pinterest boards and see all the flannels in one fell swoop!

I like the phrase “one fell swoop.” It’s fun to say. Why don’t I say it more often?

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