Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Early Literacy Messages in Action: The why, how, and where of incorporating early literacy tips in storytime

In my almost five years doing storytimes for all ages I've found one of the hardest aspects I've had to work on is how to incorporate early literacy tips. As someone without children it always seemed a little strange giving parents advice related to their children. Over time I've realized that this is one of the most important things we do in storytime and I've become more comfortable incorporating early literacy messages in my storytimes. Because of this experience when I saw some of my wonderful Twitter friends discussing doing a blog tour on the topic I was happy to add my two cents.

The why
The biggest reason for including early literacy messages in storytime is because as children's librarians, early literacy is one of our areas of expertise. Many parents may not know the things we do about early literacy, and it is part of our job to inform them. Other parents may already know a great deal but need a gentle reminder on a busy day. Still other parents could just use a reminder that the things they already do with their children are making a difference. Providing these messages helps support all these parents. It will help them encourage their children's development in the best way possible.

Knowing that storytime specifically supports early literacy will also help parents see the reasoning behind what we do and the value behind coming to storytime. Once they realize the value of storytime the more likely parents are to bring their children to storytime and become advocates for the library in the community.

The how
The "how" is where it gets tricky. It can be difficult to put our knowledge into words without sounding judgmental or preachy. Here are some things I've learned that make it a little easier.
  • Tie messages directly to what you are doing in storytime. I find this makes it feel more relevant and natural. It also gives your message a little more conversational tone.
  • Include messages at different points during storytime. As Jbrary points out, messages can be woven into your opening message, before or after activities and in one on one conversation with parents.
  • Word the message in a straightforward and simple way. I like the format of "When you do (insert activity) it is great for your child because (insert reason)". For instance "When you do bouncing rhymes, it is a great way for your baby to feel the rhythm of language." This not only gives concrete advice, it shows that we know parents are probably doing many of these things already.
  • Provide messages in several different formats. Some librarians provide handouts at storytime or display signs around the children's department. My favorite format is including these messages on my storytime blog.
  • Keep your messages varied as possible. I work in a small town, and have many regular kids who have attended storytime over long periods of time. This means I have to do my best to keep the messages I provide fresh and new.

Here are a few of my favorite tips to use:
  • "Song lyrics often include unfamiliar words, which makes singing a great way to boost your child's vocabulary" 
  • "Ask your baby simple questions as you read to them, even if they can't respond. The more you engage with your baby in this manner the more words they will learn to understand."
  • "Your baby will learn to pay attention to their name very early on. If you use their name right before a new word, your baby is more likely to learn the new word."
  • "Rhyming stories help your child identify the sounds of language. This skill becomes increasingly important as your child is learning how to read."

Where to find tips
These are just a few of my favorite places to find more examples.

For more great perspectives on this topic see the other posts in this blog tour. Jbrary has been kind enough to include them all in a a roundup post. You can also find discussion of this topic on Twitter under the hashtag #EarlyLitInAction.

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