Monday, June 15, 2015

Early Literacy Messages in Action

Welcome to the Early Literacy Messages in Action Blog Tour! The round up will be hosted on Jbrary this Friday, June 19th; for more Early Literacy fun-times follow the hashtag #EarlyLitInAction on Twitter!

I was hired as an Early Literacy Specialist when the Anne Arundel County Public Library in Maryland first expanded its Early Literacy Programming, so ‘Early Literacy enhanced’ is the only way I’ve done storytime.  Primarily I present our storytime for babies, with toddlers and preschool once or twice a month.  I’ve been presenting weekly storytimes for about a year and a half now and I’ve still got a lot to learn!  I’m no expert, but spending nearly everyday in a library and having access to the resources that I do allows me to speak with authority when it comes to helping kids develop a life-long love of learning.  

The question of the day is “How?”  How do we include Early Literacy messages in storytime?

Obviously, the answer is going to be different for everyone.  The conclusion I’ve come to is “Keep it simple.”

My first storytime plans were absolutely peppered with Early Literacy nuggets.  As though I were trying to justify every single rhyme and song I had chosen.  It was extreme.  It was bad.  I never actually presented any of these to the public (thank God.)

An accurate depiction of my first foray into Early Literacy.

Later, my library brought Saroj Ghoting to present a training and for a while I used her format for storytimes, an introductory message--she calls them asides--an example of how a storytime activity builds one of the skills kids need before entering kindergarten and learning how to read, and an “empower aside” or an idea for an activity parents can take home with them.  

Did you know, the more you talk to your children the larger their vocabularies will be?

To an extent, I still use that basic method, trying to mention Early Literacy three times in the program.  Thought the example asides given on her website,, suggest huge chunks of information to give to parents.  With the right training, in the right environment, I’m sure that’s an invaluable resource for parents.  And obviously it’s important for me to understand why I’m up there doing what I do, but if I tried to talk that long in a room full of babies chaos would surely follow.   

Where I am now I realize it’s easiest for me to deliver messages as transitions.  As I hand out sheets with the rhymes and songs I plan to use I usually say something to the effect of:

All our storytimes are Early Literacy enhanced, which basically means we try to include extra information for parents about how the songs and activities we share with kids help them prepare to learn to read.

Since I say it just about every week, it’s something that I’ve got my tongue around.  It’s basically just my alert for the parents “Early Literacy message ahead!  Prepare yourselves!”

I try to serve the meat and potatoes message while I’m handing out or collecting shakers, scarves, or putting away my flannel board pieces.  Here’s the message I gave while using the “Little worm, where are you?” flannel board guessing game I stole, er...sorry, borrowed from Mel’s Desk!

Modelling conversations skills,  asking questions and leaving time for an answer, is one way in which you can help kids develop oral language & communications skills.  

Below are some other messages I’ve given in the past few weeks!

In my Chicka Chicka Boom Boom storytime I gave this reminder with the flannel activity I borrowed from Mel’s Desk.

Learning to tell one letter from another involves being able to see the differences in letter shapes.  Talking to babies about different shapes and how things are alike and different helps prepare them to learn the alphabet.

In my All About Songs program I gave this reminder with with Jim Gill’s ‘Toe, Leg, Knee’ and the rhyme ‘These Little Fingers.’

Singing the same songs over and over and encouraging babies to babble back repeated sounds and encourages the development of Oral Language.

With the rhyme ‘These Little Fingers’ I’ll often say, “Playing games that point out different parts of the body can be a fun way to introduce new vocabulary.”

I still use some of the more ‘jargony’ terms from the first version of Every Child Ready to Read: Narrative Skills and/or Oral Language, Letter Knowledge, Print Awareness, Phonological Awareness, Print Motivation, Vocabulary, and where the heck Background Knowledge fits in, don’t ask me.

At first it’s completely awkward trying to include that language in storytime, but I do think there is value in parents hearing those terms before their children get to school.  At the moment I am working on increasing my emphasis on the five practices, Singing, Talking, Reading, Writing, and Playing, which build those skills because I think it helps parents to understand that all the stuff they’re already doing at home and in storytime is going to make all the difference when it comes time for their children to learn to read.

My final message probably doesn’t even really count.  It’s usually “Check out these books, enjoy them at home!”  I also put a message on the handouts with the day’s rhymes and songs, though those rarely make it home, I figure it’s there if they want it.

An accurate depiction of my post-storytime state.  

So where do I go for ideas for messages most often?  Well...mostly I look to some of the library bloggers who are taking part in this roundup.  The ones I refer to most frequently are Mel’s Desk for her baby storytimes, as well as Storytime Katie, and let’s not forget Jbrary which always seems to offer something fresh (Hi, ladies, thanks for being an invaluable resource!)  I also refer back to the storytime resources at And of course feel free to check out my baby storytime and early literacy storytime posts; I'd love to hear your thoughts and ideas!

And of course you’re going to feel awkward at first.  It takes time to figure out how to get things into your own words, sometimes you forget to deliver your message entirely.  That’s okay, stick with it, it’s worth it, and practice makes perfect.    

Friday, June 12, 2015

The Lion and the Unicorn and other Nonsense Rhymes

Call this the Flannel Friday redux.  I first uploaded this little guy to Pinterest last summer, but every so often I try to do a Nonsense-themed storytime, incorporating poems from Edward Lear, Lewis Carroll, and other nonsense verse.  I love using them to talk about Phonological Awareness.  During one of my preschool outreach visits, I had a little girl ask for a rhyme about unicorns and I only know one...  So I made a little flannel set to go with The Lion and the Unicorn.

The Lion and the Unicorn
The lion and the unicorn
Were fighting for the crown
The lion beat the unicorn
All around the town.
Some gave them white bread,
And some gave them brown;
Some gave them plum cake
and drummed them out of town.

(Sort of a loose interpretation of a plum cake, don't you think? Though I am insanely proud of the lion. :D )

I used the set a few times in my weekly Babies Program--I can't say it was particularly well-received (not like the parachute)--but we uses the instruments to "drum" and it provided a good jumping off point for dialogic sharing  (What sound does a lion make?  A unicorn is like a horse, with one big horn at the top of its head...).  

A couple preschoolers immediately wanted to know what happened to the unicorn.  I (quite shamefully) had forgotten enough about the origins of the rhyme to come up with a clever response like, "He went back to Scotland!" 

Baby Storytime: In the Ocean

This week we had some ocean-themed rhymes and songs at baby storytime to gear up for summer.  I'm definitely feeling a little bit of the Early Literacy burnout.  I'm at the point where I just don't like half of the stuff I'm doing anymore, but haven't had the time to figure out how to get things to click again.  We do have a break for our Summer Reading Kick-off program so hopefully when we come back I'll be feeling refreshed and empowered.  Wish me luck!

Thursday, June 11, 2015

#tbt: Ye Olde Inter-Library Loan

Not only do we no longer use those blue bands, this book was so old it wasn't even in our system anymore.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Baby Storytime: Zoo Animals

My roommate went through her mother's attic a few months ago and found a ton of Beanie Babies they had to get rid of.  Though, unfortunately, the dinosaurs we taken to Goodwill in round one of the Great Beanie Baby Cull, she very fabulously gifted me all the animals I needed for a one woman production of Dear Zoo (including the very coveted Grumpy Camel.)

I was inspired to plan this Zoo Animal-themed baby storytime, with a look at phonological awareness, so I could tell the story and talk about animal sounds.   Though I'm still working on crafting the animals a more permanent enclosure, right now I take each one out of my basket and put it back.

Monday, June 8, 2015

Baby Storytime: All About Songs

This storytime came about after the "Songs to Read, Books to Sing" workshop with Jim Gill I attended.  As you may have guessed, it was fantastic!  I cranked out about 3 different storytimes in an afternoon, using as many of the cool new songs I had learned as possible!

I loved how simple and streamlined his explanations of the Early Literacy practices were, that by singing songs and playing games in which kids have to listen for certain instructions you're building the phonological awareness and vocabulary skills without ever being boring.  It was so much fun and I can't wait to get my hands on A Soup Opera!

Baby Storytime: Chicka Chicka Boom Boom Shapes!

So I was inspires by this Chicka Chicka Boom Boom flannel board for shapes from Mel's Desk and used it with my baby group to talk about how talking about shapes helps build the foundation for Letter Knowledge!