Library storytimes boost early literacy

Photos by Sarah Ann Jump/The Herald
Sam Hopf, 1, left, and his mother, Katie, Eli Holt, 4, Lacey Smith, her daughter, Thea, 11 months, and son, Uriah, 3, all of Jasper, listen to children's librarian Christine Howard read a book about penguins during Family Storytime at the Jasper Public Library on Tuesday. "We try to come every week," Katie said. "It's a good way to get out of the house and for him to be around other kids." 


JASPER — When it comes to early literacy, it isn’t all alphabets and writing.

Tuesday morning, about 15 children with ages ranging less than a year to 6, gathered at the Jasper Public Library with their caretakers for the weekly family storytime.

During the hourlong program, children’s librarians Lisa McWilliams and Christine Howard read the children books about penguins, showed a cartoon featuring penguin characters and led a craft. Not all of the activities involved books or reading, but they all contributed to the skills kids develop in their early years that prepare them to learn to read.

Researchers have identified several literacy milestones children reach in their first years of life, and Reading Rockets, a national multimedia literacy initiative, broke them down into age groups.

From birth to age 3, for example, children learn to mimic the tones and rhythms adults use when speaking; recognize their favorite books by their covers and pretend to read them; scribble with a purpose (a precursor to writing and drawing); listen to stories; and pay attention to certain letters, such as those in their names.

The next age group Reading Rockets broke down — age 3 to 4 — shows children enjoying listening to and talking about stories, attempting to read and write and making some letter-sound matches, to name a few. All of these are skills covered at library storytimes, and they are skills parents can work on at home to boost children’s literacy.

“You’re never too young to introduce early literacy,” McWilliams said.

For the kids, storytime seems more like a social hour and play date than something geared toward education. At Tuesday’s story time, for example, some of the younger kids cuddled a stuffed penguin while Howard read. Later, the kids fed fish to a life-size emperor penguin McWilliams built out of boxes. The kids also socialized during the craft.

Children gather to feed a penguin model fish during Family Storytime at the Jasper Public Library on Tuesday.

For 4-year-old Eli Holt of Jasper, seeing his friends is a highlight of storytime.

“I like listening to stories and seeing my friends,” he said.

Eli’s mom, Kaia Holt, brings Eli and his brother, 3-year-old Max, to story time every week.

“I think it helps with concentration and listening,” Kaia said.

Kaia also likes that the librarians include a variety of activities that allow the kids to be creative.

Kaia isn’t the only mom who sees storytimes as a boost for her children. Although not regulars, Anna Goins of Jasper and her three children — Nora, 6, Olivia, 4, and Emily, 1 — attend storytimes when they can. Anna home-schools her children, so the storytimes serve as a vocabulary and reading lesson.

“I think reading aloud to kids is important,” Anna said. “Storytimes have helped with (Nora’s) vocabulary and exposure to language.”

The skills children learn in storytime go hand in hand with what older children learn in preschool and kindergarten, and the more exposure children get to the skills, the better.

Ferdinand Elementary School Principal Tyler Lemen said that teachers can see a difference between incoming kindergartners who attended preschools and those who did not.

“They just have more of a comfort level with some of the beginning aspects,” Lemen said.

For parents looking to create literacy-friendly environments for their children, Reading Rocket has a checklist. Items on the list include: having several books available to children; having at least one informative conversation with your children at least once a week; reading with your child; watching literacy centered TV programs; playing literacy-centered computer games; having paper and writing utensils readily available for drawing and writing; and letting your child see adults reading.

McWilliams also suggests not making early literacy activities too structured.

“They don’t have to sit still,” McWilliams said. “They’re still absorbing what we’re doing.”

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