Early Literacy Messages in Action: My Favorite Part

Early Literacy Messaging Graphic

If you were on Twitter last night you might have seen me having a minor case of nerves about this post! I very happily agreed to be part of @Jbrary’s Early Literacy Messages in Action blog tour, then promptly went on vacation. By the time I got back, so many fabulous librarians had already posted their amazing thoughts that I seriously was stuck for a bit wondering what else to add to the conversation. So thanks to Angie, Jbrary, Katie, Mary, and Anna for their ideas & encouragement!

First, go read everyone else on the blog tour. The round up post is at Jbrary and is going live today, and I enjoyed & learned from every single entry. There’s so much I agree with: connecting messages with activities in storytime, sharing your own enthusiasm, practicing your delivery, encouraging parents & caregivers, being flexible & responsive to the group that day. Lots of great tips!

I’m not going to reiterate those things right now, though I may be tempted to come back to them in future posts! Today, I’d like to share about my favorite part of my literacy message and why I think it is so important.

My messages are based on a message template that I created several years ago for storytime staff to use at my library. I presented a poster session at the 2013 ALA Annual on our template, and you can read a little more about it and download a handout with the template and examples at the conference site. I had a chance to expand on the poster session in an article in Children & Libraries (The article uses the same examples as the handout, but tells a little more about how & why I put the template together as I did.)

tl;dr…Here’s the template:

Parents, when you do this activity,
your children learn this early literacy skill.
This helps them become a good reader because what we know from research.
Doing this early literacy practice with your children will help them get ready to read!

With the italics filled in, it sounds like this:

Parents, when you sing lots of songs with your children,
they learn some words that we don’t use in regular conversations.
This will help them become a good reader because kids with big vocabularies have an easier time understanding what they read.
Singing with your child will help them get ready to read!

Now that you’ve read the other blog posts, you’ll recognize that many other storytime providers have also hit on the “when you do this/your children learn that” construction, which is awesome. The part I like best in our template though is the next phrase: “This will help them become a good reader because…”

Why do I like this so much? I like it because it reaches back and allows me to connect with the content, if not the vocabulary, of the research behind the ECRR1 six skills. I like it because I know a lot of parents and caregivers are genuinely curious about their children’s cognitive development and how the heck anyone ever manages to learn to read, let alone LITTLE KIDS. And I like it because I think specificity is intriguing and personal and motivating.

For instance, if you told me, “Mel, exercising 20 minutes a day is good for you!” I would believe you, but come on, I’m also supposed to floss and eat 38 servings of veggies and meditate and drink plenty of fluids and yeah sometimes exercising just doesn’t happen. Now what if you told my storytime moms that exercising would help them hold their babies longer without discomfort and told my two teens that exercising would increase their cardio for marching band camp and told me that exercising would help me sleep better at night? Now you’ve given us information that is intriguing because it connects with us as individuals and motivating because it is personal.

Everyone is different and comes to their time caring for kids with different backgrounds and motivations and information. If my messages start to sound the same, if they start to sound pretty much all like, “Read to your kids because it’s so good for them!” or “Singing helps your kids get ready to read!” then as true as those messages are, I believe I will wind up missing opportunities to connect with as many different parents and caregivers as I can and hook as many as possible with a rationale that means something to THEM and will help keep them motivated for doing all these cool early literacy activities.

I want the mom with ADD to perk up when I talk about kids learning through movement AND WHY. I want the dad who doesn’t read English very well to hear that his sharing wordless books will still help his daughter AND WHY. I want the grandma who watches all 4 of her grandkids to feel good about singing to them when she can’t sit and read with them all AND WHY. The more specific messages I share, the more I increase my chances of dropping just the right message in just the right ear at just the right time.

A lot of my parents have been with me for months (if not years, as they bring 2nd and 3rd children to baby storytime). They’ve heard a lot of my messages already. But those storytime pros will still make a point to talk with me after storytime about a particular message that has resonated with them that day. I have had new parents say out loud, involuntarily, “Really?” or “Wow!” after a message. I have had parents just jump right in and ask a question about something I’ve said, right in the middle of baby storytime. These comments make my day and they are why I keep that “because” phrase in as many of my messages as I can.

So, to wrap up, here’s a real, live message from storytime last month. This is in a baby storytime, which for us is 0-24 months. In this storytime, my literacy message was given after my first book. When I introduced the book I said, “This book is a book that my mom read to me when *I* was a little girl.” (It really is the actual book I had as a kid–sometimes I show them where my mom wrote my name on the front inside cover.) My message after the book loops back to that idea, of sharing personal favorites with your kids. It was written to connect both with the “Reading” practice and the “Print Motivation” skill.

MZD Literacy Tip from MelissaZD on Vimeo.

Almost every one of my Baby Storytime plan posts here on Mel’s Desk has a literacy message included, for more real life examples–no other videos though!

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