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.


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!


Idea Roundup, Part 1

Today I have been looking around at various children’s library websites to see what interesting ideas are out there – for spaces, programs, early literacy promotion, and more. I want to round up my ideas and observations here.

An Interactive Presentation on Children and Literacy


(image: screenshot from the Prezi linked below)

Here’s a cool Prezi presentation that walks through some of the brain research regarding early learning and development in children, specifically incorporating literacy ideas. This would be a great presentation to share on our website or on social media, because it’s a bright, interesting, interactive presentation and easy for parents to view at their own pace.

Prezi doesn’t play nice with wordpress, so here’s the link: Early Literacy & You

Queens Library Children’s Discovery Center

I’ve been looking at the Queens Library website – because this is a library with a huge, innovative space and I want to know more.



Look at this bright, light, beautiful space. Notice, too, these interactive stations shown in this picture. These stations include discovery about insects, magnets, mirrors, and other hands-on topics. And now let’s look at a screen shot of a cool feature of the library’s website…


What I love about this is how the library website links a hands-on activity to suggested books that children can look at in the library or check out to further explore an idea. It’s brilliant that the design team has set this up so well – a family can come into the library, explore an interactive station, and then find additional resources for exploration of the theme of that interactive station.

I’m impressed by the continuity between the website and the physical space, and how we could use our web resources to provide additional resources and opportunities for learning around the themes of our storytimes or programs.

Swing Into Stories

Here’s an absurdly simple, really fabulous, super easy idea for getting the word out and engaging the community.


To quote the SFPL website:

The Green Bookmobile is going to play at the park! Movement and play are an important part of growing into a reader. So we’re partnering with the San Francisco Recreation and Parks Department to bring reading and stories to where young children are movin’ and groovin’ outside. That’s the park, of course.

The Green Bookmobile has a variety of juvenile, teen and adult materials available for check out with an SFPL library card. The mobile library is able to circulate materials, create library cards, and provide the public with information about library services and programs.

Come to the playground and hit the swings with a good book or take some books home to cuddle up with later.

File this one under “Now why didn’t I think of that?” The park, the county rec center, the play area at the mall – all over the community are places people go with their kids. I’ve looked a lot at ways to bring play into the library, but I hadn’t thought of taking the library to places where children are at play. The opportunities for library-community partnership are many.

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:

Screen Shot 2016-11-06 at 1.46.49 PM.png

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.



Demco Webinar: Updating a Kids’ Library Space

Demco is an online/catalog shop for library supplies and furniture. They’ve got everything. Today when I was looking at their website for some images to inspire me, I came across a webinar they produced looking at the overhaul of a library kids’ space. I was a little skeptical – a little afraid it would just be an hour-long commercial for Demco products – but actually there was some useful information here, which I am capturing for this blog post.

Watch the whole thing here.

Some highlights…

Play is unstructured – kids decide what to do with the materials they have in front of them. It builds brain pathways and creates a developmental foundation for future learning. It can help create cooperation, empathy, negotiation, learning through trial and error.

Why should we promote play in the library? It’s part of the library’s mission of promoting achievement and learning in children – empowering kids to learn in all realms. It provides an opportunity to create community connections.

Barrington Library update…

This update went on in 2013-2014 and renovated all the library’s public space with an $8.5 million budget – but let’s look for opportunities to do this on the smaller scale!

The library update draws from the idea of multiple intelligences, the idea that we can encourage learning and play in multiple domains:


And here are some of the goals of the project – a screenshot from the webinar itself.


The webinar team also provided some details about using the space to deal with traffic flow, noise, and other factors – they observed that this created some additional work and focus for staff as well, just in terms of organizing and cleaning and maintaining the space (and even designated a staff person as “Play Coordinator”!). They talked about some of the feedback they received on the project, both positive and negative.

And they talked about metrics for evaluating the amount of time children spent interacting with the items they chose for their space. Measuring success was a useful part of this webinar. Here’s a screenshot of some of their evaluation of the program:


Included items in the updated play space:

  • Pretend marketplace
  • Foam blocks for building
  • A big slide!
  • Costumes

Other programs that they created along with their space updates:

  • Process art (drop-in, all ages) – explore various mediums and sensory elements
  • Family fort building (child + caregiver) – positive shared experience

The take-aways

There were so many good ideas in this presentation! The fact is that most of us are not undergoing an $8 million dollar renovation to our spaces. Most of us are going to cobble together a few thousand dollars here and there to do updates and programs in our libraries. That’s fine – just imagine the possibilities where we are right now!

Picture how we could take a basic space and add some interactive elements to it, maybe some comfortable seating for Mom or Dad – promote it a little – use some easily acquired supplies to invite families to participate in some interactive programs – and grow it from there.

This was a super interesting and useful webinar for thinking about spaces and programs in my own libraries. I recommend it!


Literacy apps for kids

In my last post, I looked at some of the ways that technology can support literacy learning for children. For this post, I’ve rounded up a variety of apps that I’ve used and enjoyed, and I offer them here for your enjoyment too. This is my shortlist – see the end of this post for links to lots more choices.

Reading Rainbow
This is a favorite app for my family – we gladly paid the subscription fee for a long time because we loved this app so much. (You can check it out and read a smaller selection of books for free though.) This app has fun games, videos just like the old Reading Rainbow videos from the original television series, and lots of books on a variety of topics, which are read aloud while the words appear on the screen. It’s fun, visually interesting, and intuitive to navigate. This is really a story app, but has lots of rich features in it.

BOB Books
This app has simple interactive books for children to read, plus a variety of decoding activities and activities that promote comprehension and word sense. Children look at illustrations and interact with the display, and receive encouraging little animations when they complete an activity. This app has the same look as the little books that children may read, reinforcing the print book with the digital activity.

Endless Alphabet
This app has more than just the basic words – it brings in fun and more advanced words to diversify the child’s vocabulary. Learn words like “juggle” and “stupendous” with adorable animations of each.

Letters A to Z
This is a cute app that links letter knowledge with beginning vocabulary. Each letter has a word and an illustration to go with it that the child can interact with. Tap the frog and it flicks its tongue at you. Simple, engaging, and sweet.

Dr. Seuss’s ABC App
In the inimitable style of Dr. Seuss, children can play with letters and sounds. The child can choose to read the story himself or have the book read to him. Tap a word to hear the word spoken aloud, or tap on the picture for a cute animation.

More links below: