Guest Lectures: Lynn Baker/Patrick Remer & Suzanne Flint

I want to capture some thoughts out of a recent conversation our class had with some good folks who are working in library and literacy fields.

First up… Early literacy components to storytime.

I’ll start with some notes from Lynn Baker’s talk to us, because I think she said some things that are really useful for our understanding of what we do and why. Lynn started out by reminding us that when we are planning our programs, we should consider why we do what we do. We could pick books or songs or activities because they are cute, or maybe they suit a theme, but if we are looking to get the most bang for our buck, we should consider what value our selections add to our instructional purpose.

But what is our instructional purpose? For many of us working with the early childhood set, our instructional purpose will be early literacy and school readiness. School readiness involves a variety of different skills…

  • Motor development
  • Social/emotional development
  • Approaches to learning/excitement about learning
  • General knowledge, letter/number skills

…and we can pursue these skills with children in our storytimes while also picking books and songs that are cute and funny. It would not be difficult to incorporate each of these ideas in our storytime, with some intent and planning.

  • Motor development: a fingerplay the children learn and repeat with us for fine motor skills; a stand-up-and-dance activity for gross motor skills
  • Social/emotional development: a story that incorporates a theme of friendship, kindness, missing mom or dad, getting ready to go to school, or other theme that ties into children’s early experiences
  • Excitement about learning: selected materials engage children’s visual interest; storytime leader engages children with a sense of joy and encouragement
  • Letter/number skills: a visual or tactile counting activity (a good time to use the flannel board?), or even just talking about the letters in words
  • Other school readiness skills: following simple instructions, using art/craft materials, taking turns with musical toys

While I am reflecting on Lynn’s talk, I am realizing that a lot of what we already do can fulfill these needs. It may just require shifting the lens a little and making sure we understand and bring out the literacy development capacities in our offering.

Lynn also talked about process vs. product art and crafts. Being in preschool-land we often talk about crafts – parents love product art, but a developmentally aware program gives children opportunities to engage in process over product. Lynn even suggests that we consider not giving an example – give them supplies and let them go to town, encouraging parents to let the child do it themselves! Hands-on activities promote interaction with creative, sensory, process ideas and those matter to school readiness too. It is hard sometimes not to end storytime with a cute craft for the fridge, because parents love a cute craft for the fridge. But we should consider whether it benefits our youngest guests to just be offered some materials and let them explore.

Next up… using space to send a message.

Among the things that Patrick talked about that I found particularly inspiring was the idea of using space to send a message to patrons about what we do and what’s important to us.

Patrick talked about holding storytime in the open in the middle of the library during the day… and I love this idea. We don’t do this in our library branches and I think we should. Just for 30-45 minutes, we could push some chairs aside and make room for a group of children and families to enjoy some music and storytime. Would this make the library noisy for some patrons? Yes – but it also demonstrates that this is important to us and is an essential function of what we do. He describes a very relaxed storytime environment where kids can come and go, it can become loud and busy, and storytime just happens fairly naturally. This is not like any storytime I have ever attended and I really want to try it. Spontaneous, improvisational, playful, lots of music & movement, active – this sounds so exciting and fun, doesn’t it?

He also talked about using space to demonstrate to families that we have a clue what life is like for them. Having been a parent of a small child, and having found going to the library together to actually be a stressful experience at times, this was like a breath of fresh air. He described how the Contra Costa library system took the initiative to identify communities with high need and focused on their spaces. He talked about making welcoming spaces, places to engage for families to play and learn. Spaces, toys, furnishings send a message to families that this is a place for them to come and explore much more than colorless signage. The activities people engage in within their libraries can awaken imagination, broaden experience, and open up possibilities. People stay longer and engage more in tactile and sensory ways. A well designed space gives flexible options for play and engagement between parent/caregiver and child, provides opportunity for respite and demonstrates that we understand what life with kids is like.

I was really inspired by the idea that the library can be a place where parents can find the flexibility to pursue their own needs while taking care of the whole family. We all need this.

People are not always on the floor to help patrons – the space is always there and can speak volumes about the library’s attitude toward families. How do we do that? – By looking at the library from the perspective of a child or a parent/caregiver and how they experience the building, the collection, the items we offer, and how we present all of those things.


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