Everyone knows that libraries have storytimes so young children can hear good stories read aloud. People who have attended storytimes know that, in addition to stories, children will learn action rhymes, songs and even dance moves. It is all great fun and leads to enjoyment of books and the library. That alone may be reason enough to present ten storytimes or more each week at our library, but there is actually more to it than that.
Public libraries have a strong connection to early childhood education and “early literacy,” a term that does not mean learning to read early, but instead refers to the skills children master in preparation for learning to read when they are older. It begins with babies – hearing language spoken and sung, touching our mouths as we speak, and beginning to recognize shapes and images. Babies love books. They love to look at them, hear the words, chew on them, rip their pages. Books are full of wonderment! A father in the library recently told me he got a kick out of his daughter, who is just a few months old, because she is such a book critic. He can open the page of a new board book to her laughter or her cries – she shares her opinions openly.
But we know we need to be reading to our young children, and talking to them and playing with them. How do these simple exercises translate into reading success?
The American Library Association (ALA) did extensive research into this topic several years ago and launched a nationwide program for librarians called “Every Child Ready to Read.” The research showed six early literacy skills that were key to children’s ability to learn to read when they got to school. Not surprisingly, many of these skills have been a part of storytimes for ages. Knowing the research, terminology and results associated with specific skills has helped us hone the activities that are best for early literacy. Additionally, we can easily pass this knowledge on to parents who attend our programs so their efforts at home are reinforced and encouraged.
Johnson County Public Library took ALA’s somewhat wordy program and transformed it into a fun, user-friendly version they called “6 by 6” – six skills kids need to know by the time they are ready to read around the age of six. The State Library of Kansas adopted the 6 by 6 program, making it accessible to every library in the state (http://6by6.mykansaslibrary.org).
The six skills are:
1. Have fun with books (print motivation)
2. Notice print all around you (print awareness)
3. Talk, talk, talk (vocabulary)
4. Look for letters everywhere (letter knowledge)
5. Tell stories about everything (narrative skills)
6. Take time to rhyme (phonological awareness)
In addition to weekly storytimes, we have been incorporating early literacy skills into fun 6 by 6 activity stations available in the children’s room all the time. Our 6 by 6 stations include games, puzzles, felt boards and dress-up items that revolve around a picture book. We recently had an Early Literacy Activity Day during which we set up several of the past stations in our auditorium and let children enjoy all the fun books and toys.
This month, our 6 by 6 station features “Giggle, Giggle, Quack!” by Doreen Cronin, a fun farmyard follow up to her popular book, “Click, Clack, Moo: Cows That Type.” Customers who have some time to spend in our space can read the book together on one of our cozy chairs, then use farm animal finger puppets and the barn puppet stage to retell it to each other. Children can play and learn by acting out the story, comparing different letter fonts, creating a felt pizza with toppings, matching animals with their sounds, searching for notes left by Duck and bathing a pig!
These engaging activities will be available in the Children’s Room through October. Librarians change the books and activities every two months, coming up with new and creative ways for children to explore language and stories.