As the branch librarian of a small and rural community library, I see children, youth, and families visit the library on a regular basis. They visit to attend programs, borrow books and other items, play in the library space, and use the library’s technology (including Internet and WIFI). In this position I have a responsibility to provide opportunities for learning in the areas of literacy, numeracy, and creativity for individuals of all ages.
The Government of Ontario published a document in October 2011 entitled “What Works? Research into Practice: Supporting Early Language and Literacy”. The key findings from the research tell parents, educators, and librarians that early language and literacy development can be supported by:
- Engaging children in conversations
- Suggestion: Ask questions and give children opportunities to tell stories.
- Providing opportunities for play-based learning
- Suggestion: Engage actively with games, and makerspaces.
- Encouraging interaction with environmental print (ie. the print that is found on signs,
logos, and embedded in the environment)
- Suggestion: Read books during a story time program about environmental print (ie. Signs Around Us, City Signs)
- Intentionally building phonological awareness
- Suggestion: Play word games that emphasize the structure of language, teach children to blend or delete individual sounds to form words and match words based on initial sounds.
- Focusing on letter names and letter-sounds correspondence
- Suggestion: Encourage creative writing, journal stories, labelling pictures;
- Providing lots of experiences with print
- Suggestion: Raise curiosity by discussing illustrations or other interesting features on book covers.
- Engaging in shared reading
- Suggestion: Use different voices to give storybook characters a unique personality and to emphasize the meaning of punctuation marks or text features such as enlarged or bold text.
- Building vocabulary knowledge
- Suggestion: Enhance storybook comprehension by reading stories out loud, and explaining word meanings.
(Pelletier, 2011, p. 1)
Adding play to story time programs has been shown to help develop and reinforce early literacy skills. By encouraging children to build and play during story time, a librarian or programmer can increase the child’s level of engagement with the story while encouraging them to be creative and imaginative. With these opportunities, children will be more likely to start developing and telling their own stories, heightening their own verbal and written communication skills (The Lego Group, 2012).
Here are four facts about play-based learning:
- When combined with learning, play provides children and adults with opportunities to experiment with their surroundings as a form of problem solving.
- Through play, children explore and develop their multiple senses, which creates more brain synapses. This in turn contributes to a child’s overall intelligence.
- While playing, children can stretch and bend reality. All rules can be broken and all kinds of new rules can be invented.
- When children play with adult family members, it creates a stronger bond between them.
(The Lego Group, 2012, p. 2)
Public libraries are very well suited to address the early literacy needs of young children. As a librarian, you are also very much a teacher. Another document from the Government of Ontario presents research and information on how learning happens in the early years of a child’s life, but its ideas are applicable for learning at all ages of life. How Does Learning Happen? Ontario’s Pedagogy for the Early Years (2014) implies that the most important factor for learning, play, and program success in public libraries is engagement, which refers to participants being genuinely involved and interest in what they are doing as this is when optimal conditions for learning occur. Active and hands on programming for children encourages children to explore, stimulates them to test theories, challenges them to think critically, engages them in creativity, and helps them to make sense of the world around them. This is part of the reason why makerspaces have become so popular in libraries, as this type of programming requires children and youth to be active in the program, finding value, and ultimately learning from the program. The role that librarians and programmers should play in programming is similar to that of an educator. Rather than acting as keepers of knowledge, librarians should engage with children – planning, participating, and learning with the child about his or her questions, theories, and curiosities. This can support new learning by collaborating with children in discovery and thinking (Ministry of Education, 2014).
A major literacy and numeracy based programming initiative that is finding its way into library programming is STEAM education. STEAM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math. STEAM programming is based on open-ended activities that promote creativity as well as problem-solving and critical thinking skills. Tips for incorporating math and numeracy into programming include working math into everything and making it very visual. Read math stories (like Anthony Browne’s One Gorilla), play counting or number games, or do crafts that involve measuring, patterning, and other numeracy learning strands (Koester, 2014). From setting up maker stations in the library to offering take home kits for children and families to borrow, to having recurring programs like Lego Clubs, Coding Clubs, or Maker Groups, there really are ample opportunities to incorporate traditionally school-based subjects like literacy, numeracy, science, and technology into library programming. With so many programming options that can work on a library budget of any size, there truly is a STEAM fit for every library (Koester, 2014).
There is also a push for public libraries to offer literacy and numeracy programming in the summertime to help children avoid the “summertime slide”. This is the documented decrease in children’s literacy and numeracy skills over the summer months of July and August. The summer slide also accounts for about 80 percent of the reading gap between kids from low- and middle-income families, because their access to books is limited since parents cannot afford to buy books from bookstores and the children don’t have access to the school library or classroom materials (Springen, 2014). This is why public libraries offer programs that incentivize children and youth to read, such as the TD Summer Reading Program. Planning programs that reward children for reading will help to motivate them to visit the library and borrow books when there really are numerous other activities that children could be doing over the summer. Attracting parents with programming is crucial too, as often children and youth are reliant on parents to get them to the library. Children and youth who have easy access to books over the summer, and also that engage in literacy, numeracy, and other educational and creative programming, end up reading more and avoiding the skill decrease that the summer months can bring (Paul, 2013).
Koester, A. (2014). Get STEAM rolling! Children & Libraries 12, (3) (Fall): 22-25.
Koester, A. (2014). STEAM power your library! [PDF document]. Retrieved July 23, 2016 from http://www.ala.org/alsc/sites/ala.org.alsc/files/content/NI14Handouts/STEAM%20Power%20Your%20Library%20ALSC14.pdf
The Lego Group. (2012). ALSC and LEGO® DUPLO® present Read! Build! Play! Librarian toolkit: For developing early literacy in young children. Retrieved July 23, 2016 from http://www.ala.org/alsc/importance_of_play
Ministry of Education. (2014). How does learning happen? Ontario’s pedagogy for the early years. Retrieved July 19, 2016 from http://www.edu.gov.on.ca/childcare/pedagogy.html
Paul, A.N. (2013 July 1). Do kids really have summer learning loss? Brilliant: The Science of Smart. Retrieved July 23, 2016 from http://ideas.time.com/2013/07/01/do-kids-really-have-summer-learning-loss/
Pelletier, J. (2011 October). Supporting early language and literacy. What Works? Research Into Practice. (37). Retrieved July 19, 2016 from http://www.edu.gov.on.ca/eng/literacynumeracy/inspire/research/whatWorks.html