How to: Engage with Families

While I look at Brazelton and Touchpoints I also want to look at the thought process around working with families in our diverse communities. So today I am referring to a publication from the Harvard Family Research Project entitled Public Libraries: a vital space for family engagement.

Family Engagement

What is family engagement? We engage families by…

  • Creating welcoming spaces for families and children;
  • Inviting families to participate in learning activities in the library;
  • Giving families opportunities to be involved in young children’s learning activities; and
  • Modeling specific actions that family members can take to support learning.

Family involvement in their children’s lives promotes their children’s development – not just literacy, although that’s part of it. Children in engaged families show better social-emotional development, better language and literacy skills, better math skills, and better digital citizenship skills. This is why we engage families, and not just children – and why we engage families, and don’t just put books on shelves for them to check out at the self-serve kiosk.

We have what the authors refer to the people, the place, and the platform to do this – we talk all the time (all the time!) about libraries’  unique role in the community, and here it is.

The 5 “R’s”

In this document, they’ve identified the “5 R’s” of family engagement. These are the active things we do on a daily basis to help families engage with the library, with their children, and with the community.


Let’s look at these and see what we can learn.

Reach Out
Make connections, provide resources, reach out to families who may not have accessed the library before, find ways to get the library out into the community.

Raise Up
Listen to what families tell you they need. Be co-creators with families. Exercise empathy. Put yourself in the shoes of families in your community. Promote the patron.

Partner with families. No, really – partner with families. Find ways to help families participate. Make it important, make it valuable, make it accessible.

Be a place where parents can make connections with other parents. Foster social connections.

Combine libraries’ expertise with other community resources. Engage professionals in the community. Look for the needs we can meet in our libraries in addition to the need for information resources and books to read.


The take-away

This beautiful, empowering, inspiring document – read the whole thing at the link at the top of this post – shows us why literacy is about more than just learning to read. Literacy is a way of being in this world, and we are a part of that bigger vision.

Involving the community – involving ourselves with the community – involving families with each other and with their children. Our communities are diverse; taking the needs of many segments of our communities into account, letting them tell us what they need, will help us do library practice better. Being respected in our communities may require being ever better connected and able to connect people not only with books and internet, but with resources in the community, resources for parenting, and resources for daily life.


Brazelton & Touchpoints in the Library Setting

In this class, we have talked a little bit about the Touchpoints model of development. It’s a model that grew out of the healthcare field and is now being applied to many disciplines, including libraries.

I found a variety of videos on YouTube discussing Touchpoints, and one series in particular that is especially relevant. The first is on supporting family strengths, and the second is on supporting parents in specific.


What is especially interesting about Touchpoints as a model is that it intentionally starts with strengths – with positives – with the good things in families we can reinforce.

I think some of the literature talks in a deficit model, where we talk about the lack of something having an impact and the library as a place for people to get built up in the places where they lack. Touchpoints as a strategy starts from the other perspective. It starts by looking at what parents are doing right – what is good and strong about a family.

This is related to a cultural capital narrative in which families are viewed from a position of strength. It’s a model where we would view families from the position of what they do well and how we can partner with families for success. We could observe that some Latino families, for example, may experience lack in some communities, but the strengths that they bring to the table are often in their unique and good, rich, cultural and familial context. So we can talk about lack, or we can talk about strengths, and then we can talk about opportunities – opportunities to overcome the barriers to success that exist in some communities.

In the Touchpoints model, we are looking for the good in parents because we can (and should) assume that parents want to do well by their children. We are looking for the parenting capital, so to speak. We then put ourselves in an advantageous position to look for the ways that we can overcome the barriers to success that some parents are experiencing – in particular, by this model, ways that we can support parents in their children’s unique and yet predictable behavioral cycles.

Let’s look at two videos, and my notes, following.

Supporting Family Strengths

A key portion of this video begins at 5:40: Why do we need Touchpoints in our libraries? 

Reaffirming parents’ expertise. Parents really are the experts on their own children, but our culture has undermined this corporate knowledge.

Letting parents catch a breath. Can coming to the library be an opportunity for parents to let someone else entertain their child for a few minutes? – be it in an active way with storytime or a passive way with a well designed children’s area?

Acknowledging strengths. What qualities do parents of many backgrounds bring to their parenting that we can reinforce, and what needs do they have that we can fill?

Beginning at 13:35: What are some key elements of Touchpoints? 

The developmental aspect. Nonlinear, discontinuous aspects of development are normal. Crises occur in families at points of discontinuity. This is why parents need support!

The relational aspect. Bringing compassion into our interactions with people, re-establishing the “village” that raises children that has been lost with the advent of technology. Being the place where parents can get together to connect with each other!

Supporting Parents

This video is about professionals interacting with parents.

Sometimes we will feel frustrated with how a parent is interacting with a child – it is an opportunity to stop and look for the strengths within a family.

Sometimes parents are emotionally spent and we may be seeing this interaction. Sometimes parents are culturally reticent to show you how they interact with their child.

Sometimes parents are just plain depressed. Poverty is a huge factor in this. You might see this as irritation, anger, exhaustion, unresponsive. Do you think a parent is tuned out? Consider that this could be a factor. Pause, reorient: how do we do the best we can by this family?

Find something they are doing that we can reinforce. Something good we can say. Something good specifically about that parent and that child. This will always be a good platform for interaction, if we can start with something good to say. This creates a connection, it’s meaningful, it defuses a challenging moment.

How to: Teach early literacy to preschoolers

I’ve mentioned before that I work in a preschool. We are a faith-based, developmental school, serving ages 2 through Kindergarten. It’s a diverse group of kids from about 15 different countries and speaking numerous different languages at home, and a similarly diverse staff. We teach early literacy skills at all ages and stages, and we have a BIG range of abilities represented in our school. I feel like it’s great preparation for working with children in the library too.

So I want to highlight some tips from NAEYC on teaching in the classroom, because I think it’s useful for pretty much any setting with children – including parents! (Read the whole thing here: Essentials of Early Literacy Instruction)

Can we do all these things in every storytime? Probably not! But we can incorporate these ideas throughout our program so that we hit each of these strategies for learning. I hope they are helpful for you!


The idea of “rich talk” is so useful. Rich talk includes words and ideas that might be new to kids – along with the context to understand it. We can do this by enriching our storytime themes with content. For example – are we reading Eric Carle’s Very Hungry Caterpillar? We can enhance that theme with vocabulary around fruits and vegetables, with pictures or real ones for kids to touch and look at. We can talk about sweet, sour, crunchy, soft, and other attributes of things. Just imagine how many words can be explored this way!


We got this one, right? Don’t worry about reading favorites over and over again. Repetition is good and useful and helpful.


Playing with words and sounds is fun. All kids like books with rhyming sounds in them. Sometimes they can predict what the word will be because it rhymes! Kids a touch older – like 4’s – can tell you other words that start with the same sound, or words that rhyme. You can write the words on a whiteboard so they see the word and hear it said at the same time.


We do “letter of the week” in school, but we have the kids for a whole school year so we have that continuity. For storytime, in addition to reading books with alphabet awareness, we could also theme around a letter. An example: Storytime Katie’s “E” storytime.


Providing a book list to parents and bringing out a selection of books that are related to what we did in storytime can help parents promote emergent reading, too.


For emergent writing activities, it’s useful to consider what’s developmentally appropriate for our storytime guests. Younger children display emergent writing in the form of scribbles and sometimes tracing or writing mock letters. Here’s a useful graphic describing how a child’s writing develops over time:


If you do center times, you can also do hands-on activities like allowing children to form letters with a finger in a tray of rice, or in a sealed bag of paint. (Here’s a handout on sensory ways to promote letter development with young children.)


These are some simple concepts related to books and reading which we might forget to discuss – but which promote fundamental understanding of how to use a book.

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These ideas reinforce why play in the library and in the context of our programs can be useful – these ideas represent using hands-on activities to give children an opportunity to explore the ideas we’ve been talking about in storytime.

Idea Roundup, Part 3

As I have reviewed the content of my blog, I have wanted to find ways to share early literacy resources with parents and families. So for today’s post I want to share with you some resources I’ve found that we could use for exactly that purpose.


The Library of Virginia created these fantastic literacy information cards that are a fabulous way of breaking down the early literacy practices and why they matter. A fantastic example of a parent handout.


Check out Brooklyn Public Library’s super set of tips and hands-on activities, called “Ready, Set, Kindergarten!”, designed to help parents get their children ready to go to school. Notice how many of these activities are fun, creative, interactive – and promote learning at the same time.


Speaking of play, the organization Zero to Three created this fabulous 12-page guide for parents, talking about how to play with young children in a way that promotes healthy development. Play suggestions include physical, creative, noisy, quiet, indoor, outdoor, and many other kinds of play to suit many different children and many different circumstances. Download The Power of Play.


Check out these fabulous bookmarks designed by the Kanawha (WV) library. Could we create some of these for our own libraries and give them out at checkout to anybody visiting the library with a child or checking out children’s books?

Idea Roundup, Part 2

To continue with yesterday’s idea roundup, today I want to explore additional library programs focused on early literacy and see if I can begin to work out some patterns in what is already successfully being done, and to consider what we might do in our own libraries as well.

Literacy Totes & Kits
The Sandusky (OH) library received a grant to establish a collection of literacy totes intended to enable parents/caregivers to purposefully and effectively promote early literacy with their children.

Providence Public Library has something similar. Watch this video to see what it looks like!

Simple Downloadable Resources
The NYPL has a section for early literacy resources that is written in accessible language, and most of it is available in Spanish as well (though it is probably needed in lots of other languages too!). I love this simple set of infographics and suggested activities that give parents very simple and very accessible tips.


The rest of this page has resources for families throughout the community – cultural experiences, places to take your child and explore, even links to community health resources and other resources families may need at home. This could be viewed as a subtle way the library can demonstrate its investment in families as a whole and understanding of families’ needs in a broad sense, generating trust in the community.

Engaging Culture
Providence Public Library has a cool series called Family Learning Sundays. One Sunday a month, they do something culturally based and interesting. Cultural learning promotes a sense of self, interest in other people’s way of life, gives a vocabulary for varied experiences, and is just interesting and fun!


Now Hear This! Incorporating Early Literacy Messages into Storytimes

I came across this article that was so immediately relevant that I definitely had to blog it to share it with you! Melissa Depper has written about making early literacy messaging in the context of storytime simple by offering a simple and usable process for defining and describing early literacy practices.

Here’s Depper’s process, which is called the Parent Literacy Connection:

  • an activity (book, song, rhyme, fingerplay, flannelboard, game, and so on) designed for the children and supporting an early literacy skill or practice and
  • a conversational, brief, early literacy message delivered to the adults.

The messaging contains four potential parts:

  1. The Activity Statement “provides a natural transition from a storytime activity to the literacy message.” This is the time to tell the group what we’re doing to highlight the activity for parents and draw their attention to it. (A side note: This is helpful for children, too, because providing predictable transition moments helps children move from one activity to another successfully.)
  2. The Skill Statement “lets parents know that what they do with their children makes a difference.” This is the time to highlight the learning or development that occurs during each and every interaction between a child and parent or caregiver.
  3. The Good Readers Statement “gives parents and caregivers the … practical outcome of building early literacy skills.”When we do this, it gives parents a concrete early literacy concept and explains to them specifically how they are contributing to it with their specific literacy practices.
  4. The Practice Statement “reinforces the ‘practice of the month’ for the parents and caregivers, and it provides consistent, recognizable closure to the literacy message.” In the author’s library, one practice receives focus for a month at a time, to provide consistent exposure to these practices and their outcomes.

Here’s a sample script for actually using these messages in storytime:

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See how the activity and the message connect what you’re doing in storytime to something that parents and caregivers can do with their children outside of storytime. It’s also noteworthy how this sample script brings together components of ECRR1 and ECRR2 by addressing both the skills and the practices of early literacy.

After hearing this message, when a parent sings an animal song with her child, perhaps it will trigger the thought in her head: “Gosh, the storytime leader said that something as simple as this can actually help my child learn to read!” or prompt him to think of the numerous opportunities he has during the day to influence his child’s learning just having little conversations about things they experience in their environment together.

I am sharing this messaging template with you because I think it is a useful way to arrange our thoughts about storytime and early literacy messaging. Sometimes parent education can be a little intimidating – we might think we’re talking too much, or parents aren’t hearing or connecting with what we’re saying. So reducing our thoughts to a simple template gives us an opportunity to say what we need to say in relatively few words, so that we can efficiently and effectively share the message with parents and caregivers.


Depper, M. (2014). Now Hear This! Incorporating Early Literacy Messages into Storytimes. Children and Libraries, 12(1), 16-18.



Research Time, Part 3: Effectiveness of Community-Based Early Literacy Efforts

Today I am continuing a tour of research journals looking at various aspects of teaching early literacy behaviors and practices to children and parents. Today I am looking at some research regarding a community-based initiative and exploring its potential effectiveness. What can we glean from research such as this? It can tell us strategies that have already been used, the effectiveness of those strategies, and the means by which researchers gauge program effectiveness.  These are all points of information that can be useful in designing and evaluating our own strategies.



Early literacy fundamentals

These are the fundamentals of the early literacy interventions in this study. These interventions are actions on the part of the library or librarian intended to promote early literacy behaviors with families.

All of the intervention efforts included the following practices:

  • Distribute high quality books for infants through multiple sites and community agencies. Child librarians compiled a list of age appropriate and culturally relevant books
  • Model reading behavior with the parents. This include pointing to pictures and telling a story about the pictures, making up or telling new stories in Spanish or English, and sharing an intimate and a nurturing experience with their children
  • Stress the importance of having a regular reading routine at home
  • Promote the use of public library services and literacy programs
  • Inform the parents about the important role they play in preparing their children for school

These efforts should look pretty familiar to us  at this point – they are classic techniques in early literacy strategies.

Here are some additional strategies from the programs studied.

  • Visits from a health worker, who would bring to each family “a gift bag that included a cardboard book for their infant, an application for a library card, and a voucher for a free baby T-shirt redeemable at the public library” and referrals to ESOL services.
  • Parenting classes in the public library, including reading practices with children
  • Distribution of books in healthcare settings

Literacy promotion metrics

Another aspect of this study which is particularly interesting to me is the set of metrics used to measure early literacy behaviors. These are behaviors parents engage in with their children that in some way promote early literacy.

These behaviors include classic literacy promotion behaviors such as parents looking at books with their children – as well as behaviors you might not see on every list such as parents going to the park with children. Here’s the whole list:

  • Showing books to child
  • Reading books
  • Playing with child
  • Drawing pictures together
  • Hugging and cuddling
  • Going to the park
  • Visiting the library
  • Attending an event at the library
  • Participate in local literacy initiative at the library

The take-away

This article demonstrated that the early literacy efforts made in these programs was correlated in some way to increases in the identified literacy activities. Though the study was limited in some ways and can’t tell us the mechanism by which this is the case, and also cannot establish causation, the good news of this study is that it gives us some insight as to how we could make an impact in our communities, and what daily behaviors of families are important.

We can use these metrics to encourage families to do activities that go beyond reading and writing and are easily incorporated into their social context, and we can use them to explain how everyday activities impact a child’s early literacy learning as well.

It is possible that to some extent, the simple fact of highlighting the importance of early literacy-related behaviors in families and empowering parents to have an impact on their child’s development motivates not only literacy activities such as reading, but related activities such as going to the park, or having their child contribute to the grocery shopping or cooking, or even just spending time together connecting. Seen in this way, literacy development is a big-picture concept and influenced in numerous ways.


Peifer, K., & Perez, L. (2011). Effectiveness of a coordinated community effort to promote early literacy behaviors. Maternal and child health journal, 15(6), 765-771.