An early literacy message has been a part of every storytime I have ever planned. Now, I admit, there have been times that I failed to actually deliver the message I planned, but no one is perfect.
I have only worked for one library district and my first librarian job began right around the launch of ECRR2. Reading, Writing, Talking, Singing, and Playing are what I live and breathe. However, it still doesn’t always come easy. Sometimes it feels like my message falls on deaf ears, or it comes out awkward and too wordy. But then I move on to next week and try again, because I honestly believe these small messages are the most important part of my storytime.
I love reading to children, I believe I’m actually a quiet talented reader, and it warms my heart when the children and parents are all engaged in a silly song, or squealing beneath the parachute. But I’m not here to entertain. My job is to help these children grow into readers and I am not powerful enough to do it alone. I need their parents and caregivers to understand why we do fingerplays and sing non-sense songs so that they will keep doing it at home.
Everyone has there own style but there are a few things I find in common with my most successful messages.
- I tie the message directly to a book/ song/ activity. I plan my storytimes with early literacy in mind. There is a reason that I picked the book or fingerplay. It’s not just fun, it’s developing a critical skill or modeling an important practice. Ok, sometimes I pick a book to read just because it’s a super silly book that I find fun to read. Perfect! “Share books that you love to read! Your enthusiasm is contagious and will inspire your child to become a reader.” BAM! Print Motivation in the house!
- I share what I’m excited about. I am always learning about new studies and research on children’s language and brain development. These things excite me and when I share the research my enthusiasm comes through. It’s never comes off as pedantic because I’m honestly excited to share the cool stuff I learned! After sharing a tidbit about a study that showed a connection between a child’s ability to recognize different rhythms and their ability to read and spell (we were using rhythm sticks that day) a mother paused, “Wait? Really?” she asked. We were able to connect after storytime and I shared some more details about the study.
- I make it relevant to my audience. This may be more challenging for me than for others. I do an all ages storytime so I never know who’s going to be there. It’s usually a mix of preschoolers and early elementary kids, but the ratio is always changing so I try to think on my feet and add tips that those parents can relate to and use. If there are baby siblings at my storytime, I improvise and add a message about how this next song is great for babies. I also have several “back pocket” tips that I can pull out as situations arise, i.e. “We always want storytime to be enjoyable, so it’s ok to end a story early” “Children learn through movement. It’s ok for your child to not sit quietly for the story as long as they are allowing others to see and hear”
- I keep it conversational. This takes practice, but once you start to internalize early literacy messages it’s easy to just talk about how what you’re doing supports literacy. I do carefully craft a message on my handout, and explicitly connect it to one of the 5 practices. For example, my shout out box may read, “Let’s Learn Together: Talking! The artwork in picture books often tells the story more than words. Take the time to talk about what you see in the pictures, or explore a story by just talking about the pictures and ignoring the printed text.” What I actually say in storytime is more like, “This next book has very few words, but the pictures give us lots to talk about. Talking about the pictures is also great for picture books with too many words.” To which I heard a child reply, “Like with my Transformers books!” Winning!
Most of all I believe my early literacy messages are successful because I believe that they are critical to a successful storytime. I take the time to think about how to craft a storytime to support a literacy skill, or look for the practices embedded in my storytime. The more thought I’m able to put into my message, the more comfortable and effective I become. Some of the places I look to for early literacy inspiration are:
CLEL: Colorado Libraries for Early Literacy: Early literacy tips, blogs, and the home of the CLEL Bells Picture Book Award (if you’re not familiar, the committee selects five books published that year the best model and support the five practices)
National Association for the Education of Young Children: Tips and article topics cover Child Development, Reading & Writing, and Music, Math & More