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 in on 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.
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, Sing & Play Word Games (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.
This month features The Gruffalo by Julia Donaldson and illustrated by Axel Scheffler. In the rhyming text, we follow a brave mouse who outsmarts all the animals in the forest who would like to eat him by telling them he is off to have dinner with his friend, the gruffalo, a terrifying monster the mouse makes up as he goes. Much to his surprise, the mouse does indeed meet a strange beast that matches all his frightening descriptions. But once again, the tiny mouse is able to outwit the gruffalo and all the other critters. Although this book is more than 10 years old, it has remained popular with a sequel, The Gruffalo’s Child, and a short, award-winning animated film.
Now you can visit the library with your child or grandchild to have some fun with this entertaining story. Read the book together on one of our cozy chairs, then use the stuffed gruffalo and other puppets to retell it to each other. Put together a funny Mr. Potato Head monster version with extra eyes, horns and other silly body parts. Use a big magnet board to match words and letters, and pretend to mix up some interesting recipes.
These engaging activities will be available in the children’s room through May. Librarians change the book and activities every two months, coming up with new and creative ways for children to explore language and stories.
by Jennifer Adams
This column was printed in The Mercury on March 31, 2013