early literacy messages in action: the more you know

This week, I’m so excited to be a part of a blog tour on early literacy messages in action. Follow #EarlyLitInAction on twitter for more posts and a tour round up will be posted on Jbrary Friday, June 19th.

Early Literacy Messaging Graphic

I’m hoping to be more conscientious about showing the process of how I do and learn things. Sometimes I feel like we see these finished programs or ideas others are doing and we forget that the person didn’t just come up with a fully formed, perfect program that sprang from their brains. Learning is a process. So, I went back and looked at my first storytime plans. Dang. DANG! First of all, July 18th will be my 3 year anniversary of providing storytimes. I feel like I still have so much to learn and I’m just getting started! Secondly, I remember well how painstakingly long it took me to plan.

Wanna see it?

Nibblers July 18

I so did not do a parachute with balloons at my first storytime. But I had visions of grandeur.

This was a year later:


Note the lack of an early literacy tip on the sheet.

I used to be all about themes. It helped me organize the transitions and structure. Early literacy messages were something I did, but it felt separate from storytime. It felt awkward, but I knew the information was important to communicate so I did it. I would type out exactly what I was going to say for each step and virtually read it from my storytime plan. And most of the tips I borrowed directly from Saroj Ghoting-an early literacy guru.

As I continued to learn about the 6 early literacy skills, I started understanding them better and when ECRR2 came along with the 5 practices, things clicked for me in regards to how I could talk to caregivers more naturally.

When I realized I was spending what seemed like a ridiculous amount of time trying to find a book or song or rhyme to match my theme, I ditched them. The time I had spent trying to find that perfect book/song/rhyme, I now spend learning more about child behavior and brain development as it relates to early learning.

This has changed how I plan and communicate early literacy information to caregivers in storytime dramatically.

Every single thing I include in storytime is intentionally there to support early literacy skills and practices.

Vocabulary: “Toddler brains are just like scientists’ brains: they want to explore and observe and figure things out. So let’s sing our weather song, look outside, and talk about the weather! Let’s see how many different words we can use to talk about the “sun” as introducing kids to new words will help them get ready to read.”

Phonological Awareness: “We sing all the time in storytime because singing helps us slow down our words and lots of times syllables are different notes so it breaks up words nicely which will help us when we start reading on our own.”

Print Motivation: “You know what? I’m just going to stop reading this story because I think we might have more fun if we get some wiggles out. Caregivers, if your child isn’t interested in reading, it’s good to stop! Reading should be an enjoyable experience you share so if they don’t want to, just move on to something else.”

Print Awareness: “Wait a minute…something doesn’t look right…why are the pictures upside down?! I’m being silly, aren’t I! Learning how books works is an important skill to have to get ready to read so have fun when you’re reading together and help your child notice how books work.”

Letter Knowledge: “We’re really too young to worry about what each letter stands for, but talking about the different shapes and describing what they look like will help children recognize that letters look different too. Let’s go through all of the shapes on the felt board and then see if we can find “Little Bear” because he’s hiding behind one of them!”

Narrative Skills: “Good job shaking our egg shakers to Humpty Dumpty today! Now let’s tell the story together. Here is a picture…what does this look like? That’s right! It’s a horse! He’s one of the king’s horses…Who do you think this is?…It IS Humpty Dumpty! What does he look like?  An egg, that’s right!…..caregivers, when we tell and retell stories together, it helps us learn that stories have a beginning, a middle, and an end. We’re going to be working on our narrative skills this session by reading nursery rhymes and then telling the stories together on the felt board.”

I don’t share every single thing every single time because my storytimes would be an hour long if I did! But I do make a point of sharing at least one thing at every session.

I am genuinely excited to share new-to-me information with caregivers. I went to a wonderful workshop at the Kent District Library (that’s a link to their Play-Grow-Read portion of their site which is a wealth of tips and information!) where I learned that when we start counting with our thumb first instead of our index finger, we’re strengthening the first three fingers of our hands which are the one’s we need to be strong in order to write. I started learning about crossing the midline and how it helps make connections in our brains that will help us get ready to read. I’ve been introduced to Mind in the Making and the executive life skills kids need in order to achieve their goals. I’m currently obsessed with Fred Rogers who was a pioneer in child development. I am a huge fan of Early Childhood Investigations webinars. The Colorado Libraries for Early Literacy website is a treasure trove of information. And my to read pile is enormous (aaaand it just got bigger thanks to this awesome list from Jbrary!).

And you know what? My caregivers seem genuinely excited to hear why I’m doing what I’m doing. Before and after storytime, I’ll frequently have caregivers come and ask me specifics about what I shared and I love encouraging them to explore the resources I’m using.

I could go on and on and on and on about this, but I wanted to end with the reason I love sharing early literacy information in storytime: the why.

When I learned what an enormous impact public libraries could have on our communities if we shared what we know about early literacy and learning, I knew I had found my calling. While reading, singing, playing, talking, and writing with under 5s may seem like common sense to us, there are so many people who do not know HOW to do these things with the children in their care. I have had caregivers with masters degrees thank me for showing them “how” to interact with their infants. I have had daycare providers (some of the biggest unsung heroes, imho!) tell me that they learn more during one of my storytimes than they do during required training. When we share this information with caregivers, we’re advocating for the youngest members of our society who are incapable of advocating for themselves while empowering their caregivers to do the same.

I seriously could write another post about why it’s important advocacy for our profession-those who work with children-within our libraries to include early literacy messages in storytime because while, yes, storytime is hella fun, it’s incredibly important work that takes time to learn and execute. Our piece of the library budget can get bigger if we can demonstrate what we do in storytime is having a direct impact on caregivers and children in our communities (and if anyone can figure out a way for us to actually conduct long term research within our own libraries, I’m IN!). But for now, I encourage you to find your voice in early literacy messages. Be yourself. Be confident that the knowledge you are sharing is important. Because it is.

And on that note: I’m off to my first storytime after a long break and I’m so excited to share with everyone what I’ve been learning!


the day i suggested we slay the sacred SRP cow

This is my 4th SRP. The past 3, I have been a mess. Completely panicked and totally stressed and…well…a mess. We start signups on June 1 and our kickoff party is June 6 and I keep waiting for the panic to seize me, but I think this might be the year I finally realize SRP is no different than any other part of the year. It’s just busier.

On twitter a few nights ago, I caught a snippet of a conversation where someone asked if SRP is a sacred cow that needs slaying.

Can I get an AMEN?!


Yeah. I didn’t think so.

I know, I know. SRP is important. We help prevent summer slide! (But do we really? My library doesn’t have any empirical evidence that’s the case…I mean, obviously if kids are encouraged to read over the summer and they do then maybe, but aren’t those kids going to be more likely to be engaged readers in the first place? We still rely on caregivers to get kids to the library during the summer so are we reaching those who can’t come? Especially with programs that require repeat visits throughout the summer?) We get non-readers to read by giving away prizes! (Yeeeeah, but there’s a lot of research that suggests rewarding reading doesn’t work in the long run and if anything, by rewarding kids who already LIKE to read, we could be turning them off to reading.) Our community loves our summer program and they would be so upset if we got rid of it! (Okay, you’ve got me there….except shouldn’t engagement be the goal year ’round? Are our SRP designed for our entire communities or the ones that are the most vocal and supportive already?)

I’m obviously being a bit cheeky, but the whole business of slaying sacred cows means we’ve got to be on the lookout for the “Because we’ve always done it!” answer and at the end of the day, isn’t that why SRP is the ultimate sacred cow?

I don’t have any answers or a big finish here. So, I’m just going to leave this picture of a shaker egg I got from Cory during Guerrilla Storytime at Midwinter. 


observing my storytime neighbors

We’re on a storytime break at my library (something I believe is critical for a variety of reasons, but that’s another post…) and as I have been tasked with developing storytime training/standards/evaluations, I thought it would be helpful for our storytime providers to get outside our organization and take our new-still-a-working-document peer evaluation form out for a spin. 

In my perfect world, where early literacy is a priority for public libraries and staff is plentiful as is time for ongoing learning, observing and evaluating storytimes and early literacy programs would be not only part of introductory training, but also ongoing professional development. In reality, I know how lucky we were to be able to leave the building for 3 1/2 hours to do this. 

We were able to observe a toddler and a family storytime, a definite selling point to my supervisor when I asked if we could go. I emailed the youth services department a few weeks in advance to ask permission and they were more than happy to have us. 

I learned a lot. I learned I needed something to take notes on in addition to the peer evaluation form. The form is really more for reflection. I learned I have been entirely too timid when it comes to “mess” during my process art program. I learned my prep can most likely be cut in half. I learned a wonderful primary color nesting boxes activity I’m going to start doing with toddlers this summer. I learned there are about…well…how many people in the world provide storytime at a library or in an early childhood learning environment…let’s say countless ways to “do” storytime. 

I actually already knew that but observing strangers with two completely different styles back to back was really striking. 

Not only did our hosts allow us to observe, they made time for us to ask questions after both storytimes. I am someone who asks lots of questions. Not only the “What song was that?! I loved it!” variety, but also the “Does your library have storytime training for new employees? Are you required to include early literacy tips? How much freedom do you have with content?” variety. 

As I’ve been working my way through creating these evaluations and trainings, I’ve been surprised at how many libraries don’t seem to have a training program in place for storytime providers. At first I assumed this was something you are taught when you get your MLS/MLIS but my very informal poll tells me that’s not the case. I’ve also been surprised at how many people seem to feel training would be too restrictive. 

Good training informs an employee how storytime supports your organization’s mission. Good training gives providers common language. Good training empowers staff. 

I hope you bear with me as I work my way through this process of storytime training. I suspect it will come up on here a fair amount in one way or another in upcoming posts. And I welcome all comments and opinions. From what I’ve gathered, there are quite a few people who believe storytime training is unnecessary.

At the very least, I encourage you to reach out to your storytime neighbors and learn from each other in real life, if you are able. I can almost guarantee you will learn something!

pool noodles and mats and duct tape and bean bags!

We’ve been offering a program every Friday at 10:00am for 18mos-5 year olds and their caregivers: dance parties, science, process art, parachute play, and movement. About half we do ourselves and we are fortunate enough to be able to hire out the other half.

This month I was all set to do a parachute play session, but then a post about an obstacle course caught my eye on the Storytime Underground facebook page.

I’m totally an obstacle course kinda woman.

It was my favorite kind of program: low prep and cost/high impact. Here’s a picture of almost the whole space:


And here are the individual stations:

Balance beam: Many thanks to our teen librarian who let me use her superfancy rainbow duct tape. It was a big hit!


Tossing: The monster friend on the left we made and the frog on the right was something we found that had been stashed away. I was wildly impressed we actually tried to throw the bean bags INTO the mouths and not AT each other.


Over and under and over: pool noodles, step stools, and chairs. This was really popular. We had one kid who just did hot laps through this station over and over and over again.


Trucks and shapes with duct tape: Not so wiggly, but it was nice to have a calmer station where we could trace our shapes with our trucks.


How far can you jump: ducts tape with numbers. A surprisingly popular station given how easy it was to set up. I ended up making one of these closer together which was definitely the smart thing to do. It gave them so much confidence to be able to reach 5!


Crawl through: mats and chairs. Yup. This was the big one. I had questioned having multiple entry and exit points, but it worked out really well. I also had 3 stand alones in case we were a little nervous about the long tunnel. We were originally going to purchase tunnels, but I wanted to make sure this was going to be something we wanted to repeat before we invested money so we used our mats from our baby storytime room hence the need to have chairs to keep them upright.

IMG_3334 IMG_3333

I had multiple requests from caregivers to include this next winter in our Friday rotation of programs (which are actually in jeopardy given our staffing levels on Fridays but fingers crossed!) and we had about 50 kids and caregivers in attendance which was about perfect for the space.

Miss Erin is now really tired as she jumped and crawled and tossed and balanced right along with them!

one of those moments when it’s all worth it

I was finishing up a preschool/kindergarten tour with about 25 kids and we’d reached the really fun part where I ask “Does anyone have any questions?” and everyone’s hand goes up and when I call on a kid they put their hand down and pause….pause….pause….”I HAVE A DOG AT HOME!”

I know I’m not actually going to be asked any questions with this age group but I always ask anyway because I kind of love the answers. After a few rounds of pause…..pause….pause….”I LIKE LEGOS!” and pause….pause….pause….”CHOCOLATE ICE CREAM IS MY FAVORITE!” I decided to ask a different question: “Does anyone want to tell me their favorite book?”

All hands up.

Over 75% of the kids said “Moo!” by David LaRochelle most likely because I’d just read “Moo!” by David LaRochelle to them before we started the tour but also because that book rules. I turned to the teacher and asked if we had time for me to read it again and she said that would be fine.

And then one girl asked “Can we read it with you?” and I don’t know what came over me but I asked “Can you read it TO me?” which was greeted with a chorus of “YES!”

And they did.

I pointed. I reacted non-verbally as if I was reading it. And they read it to me. With expression.

I witnessed 25 kids on the verge of learning to read get so excited about reading a book together.

On the days when you feel like you’re going to lose your mind trying to juggle the programs and the collection and the outreach and the tours and staff cuts and budget cuts, remember moments like this. We, as youth services professionals, have an enormous positive impact on the kids in our communities. We are growing readers.

High five, tribe.

things i can control, things i can influence, and everything else

It’s been a mean couple of weeks. The kind of weeks where I’ve dreaded coming to work.  The kind of weeks where it feels like the hits just keep coming. The kind of weeks where I’m wondering if this is the new normal and the new normal might not be sustainable for me.

I keep reminding myself there are a few things I can control, a few more things I can influence, and a whole mess of things I can’t do much about.

In an attempt at feeling somewhat more in control, I’ve jumped head first into a few independent projects. I started researching incentives for reading and was directed to Stephen Krashen by the one and only Melissa Depper. The original impetus was going to an outreach site and being asked “What do I get for reading this week?” every time I visited, but I’m quickly realizing this research has relevance to the ongoing SRP/SLP/SRC Revolution. Are we actually doing the exact opposite we intend to do when we incentivize reading? One of my favorite things to say I “do” in my job is motivate kids to read because reading is the best. If reading is the best, why do we give kids anything to do it? Shouldn’t we be spending our summers allowing kids to read whatever they want, whenever they want, wherever they want and providing a ton of readers’ advisory help? Instead of labor intensive programs, shouldn’t we be offering book talk sessions for all ages (oh, man. I just thought of this idea and our SRP programming is already SET for this summer!) so kids can be introduced to books of interest to them in a fun way? I mean, there’s RESEARCH here, people, actual research!

I also picked up “Tools of the Mind: the Vygotskian approach to early childhood education” by Elena Bodrova and Deborah Leong. After much consideration and much helpful advice from my fabulous twitter PLN, I’ve pretty much decided to forgo an MLIS in favor of an advanced early childhood education degree. I love school aged kids and I love working with them, but I have a passion for early childhood literacy and I am hopeful I will be able to continue working in a public library setting with a degree like this. I won’t be able to be a library director when I grow up, but quite honestly, my interest in management has waned.

Which brings me back to things I can control, things I can influence, and everything else.

I can control what knowledge I have. With that knowledge, I can influence and hopefully inspire people in my community, but the everything else part? I’m ready to to be done worrying and stressing and let it be everything else.

I have a history of melanoma and I just found out I have yet another spot that needs to be removed asap. Making it even more fun, it’s on my foot. MY FOOT! Which most likely means a longer recovery time. My already understaffed team is going to have to cover my storytimes, programs, outreach, and desk time for I-don’t-know-how-long-yet and I hate that it’s because of me. I don’t exactly have the best role models when it comes to taking the time one needs to recover and couple that with recent staff reductions, the guilt I feel over this could be crippling. But you know what? I am a valuable employee, but I am not essential. I’m not. What is essential is my health. I have watched employees literally work themselves to death by ignoring health issues and putting their job’s first. Miss Erin is going to put her health first and come back armed with many Mister Rogers’ episodes watched, many books read, and all ready to tackle SRP2015.

on surviving a rainbow magic fairy party

I am not a fairy person. I am not a rainbow person (unless we’re talking about the LGBTQ+ community and then I’m all kinds of in love with rainbows!). And I’m not a huge fan of the Rainbow Magic Fairy books. So, I’m not sure what I was thinking last fall when I said “I think we should throw a Rainbow Magic Fairy Party and I’ll do it.”

I’ve been mildly freaking out about it ever since.

I may have mentioned this before, but we don’t require registrations for just about every program we do at the library. While I completely understand the reasoning behind this, it does mean staff takes the brunt of the stress: What if I run out of materials?What if I don’t have enough room? What if I can’t control the crowd?! (that’s all me and my inability to feel in control of school aged kids. I seriously need to work on this.)

I definitely have Kim from Literary Commentary to thank for inspiration. I probably read this post a thousand times. I so wanted to do flower crowns, but alas I was worried about how many kids would show up.

Here’s what we did:

1. I started by talking about the fairies and it took me awhile to get comfortable with my approach. I decided to focus on talents. I mentioned that the fairies all have different talents: the sports fairies! the dance fairies! the music fairies! I talked about Gail Carson Levine’s book “Fairy Dust and the Quest for the Egg” and how Prilla is a new fairy and no one knows what her talent is at first. This ended up being a really great way to approach it as we talked about things we were really good at doing. And yes, it warmed my little heart when a girl said “My talent is reading!” I had a few kids who said “I don’t know what my talent is…” which allowed me to channel my inner Mister Rogers and talk about how we’re all different and special and we are still trying lots of things to find our talents, but a talent usually comes from something we really love doing so what are some things YOU LOVE TO DO? Nervous kids turned into excited kids!

2. I read the first 2 or 3 chapters from Inky the Indigo Fairy. I confess: I chose Inky because she wore jeans. And wasn’t pink. And wasn’t blonde. We had advertised it as a program for K-3rd graders and I had some much younger kids. Call me impressed that the majority of them sat through a 15 minute reading of a book without pictures.

3. We decorated wings. We purchased these from Discount School Supply. Have I mentioned how lucky I am to work for a library that can afford this kind of thing? Because I am. And I know I am. I mentioned before we got started to think about what our talents are and to keep those in mind when we’re decorating. We used washable markers and glittery heart stickers and some stick on jewels to decorate.

4. We made wands. We purchased thin dowels and used glitter hearts and ribbon. They could also color the dowels with washable markers if they wanted to. This ended up being a different “station” (thanks to my awesome team for some quick thinking on this option!) which took them away from the open area where we had decorated our wings and gave us a chance to clean up a little to get ready for….

5. The Fairy Dance Party! I put together a playlist of fairy-ish songs: When Will My Life Begin from Tangled, Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairies from the Nutcracker (added bonus that the Sugar Plum Fairy is mentioned in Inky!), To the Sky by Owl City (yeah, yeah, it’s from Guardians of Ga’hoole, but they didn’t care or notice it was about owls not fairies!), Bibbiti Bobbiti Boo from Cinderella (and I was shocked, SHOCKED I SAY, many kids didn’t know this one), Fly To Your Heart from the Tinkerbell movie, Touch the Sky from Brave and….wait for it….LET IT GO. Three times. I had to play Let it Go THREE TIMES.

And then it was over. And I realized I had survived. And not only had I survived, I realized I had a rapt audience of about 27 girls and 3 boys where we talked about talents and individuality and being special. And then we danced to songs that were about flying in the sky and reaching for the stars and being ourselves.