Being an Early Literacy Cheerleader in Storytime and The Power of Waiting

A few months ago I wrote about my favourite early literacy message and since then a few more excellent resources popped into my blog feed. I love when that happens; it’s like the universe telling me to continue thinking and writing about this topic.

First I’ll draw your attention to Why & How to Offer Supportive Early Literacy Messages by Tess Prendergast. I especially like how Tess stresses the “Supportive” part. She says, “For caregivers who do not yet know why kids need rich language and literacy experiences, early literacy tips should offer validation, support and encouragement, not judgment.” When I speak to other staff who offer storytimes a common concern I hear is that early literacy tips come off as preachy, judgmental, or didactic. To add to Tess’s advice, I try to think of it like I’m the early literacy cheerleader of storytime. Here to pump you up and congratulate you on spending this time with your little one in all the ways that support their communication.

I also started to think about what I can do in storytime if I can’t or don’t want to say an early literacy message. And for me that comes back to modelling. The Hanen Centre newsletter arrived in my inbox at the best time: The current issue linked to a post about what we learned from the pandemic about children’s vocabulary development, and they reminded me of the OWL Strategy. OWL stands for Observe, Wait, Listen.

From The Power of Waiting by The Hanen Centre

There are so many opportunities in storytime to model OWL for caregivers. For example:

  • Walking around the room before or after storytime and crouching down so little ones can see my face
  • Pausing after reading a page in a book and seeing what the little ones are noticing on the page
  • Pulling out a puppet and doing some funny movements, waiting for little ones to point or say something before I start interacting with the puppet
  • Reacting and responding to things little ones do or say during storytime

With these examples my goal is to model the power of the pause, the benefits of following a child’s lead, and the richness of having back and forth conversations that build vocabulary and comprehension. Even if I don’t explicitly say what I’m doing or why I’m doing it, I feel good about how my actions in storytime foster an early literacy environment.

So that’s what I’ve been thinking about lately. What about you?

6 thoughts on “Being an Early Literacy Cheerleader in Storytime and The Power of Waiting

  1. I’m happy every time you post, Lindsey. I also feel uncomfortable presenting early literacy messages because they do feel forced so I often skip them. I think I need to rephrase things so that they sound more natural to me. The tips that I’ve had the most success sharing are the ones that surprised me. I also like pointing out that activities that families are already doing have research-based benefits. Ultimately, modeling interactions with children to nurture early learning is the best thing I can do, so I’ll try to be more intentional about practicing wait time and acknowledging children’s responses.

    1. Thanks, Michelle! I am grateful that you continue to read and comment and engage with what I write. Makes me feel less like I’m shouting into the void. I think everyone will get to a different place where they feel comfortable with sharing early literacy information with families. It sounds like you are taking a thoughtful approach that works for you!

  2. I love that OWL technique and Tess’ comment, β€œFor caregivers who do not yet know why kids need rich language and literacy experiences, early literacy tips should offer validation, support and encouragement, not judgment.”
    One thing I noted when getting feedback from parents both after storytimes and in workshops was that when they see us model, they are often thinking something like, Oh the librarian does that (for example, pauses for a long time). However, they don’t necessarily take the next step and see themselves doing it. They are more likely to continue the early literacy/language-rich behaviors at home when three things happen–when they understand WHAT the actual early literacy behavior is, WHY it’s important, AND when they see it as something doable. “Oh, the librarian make it look easy. I think I can do that.”
    We may, for example, read a rhyming book and/or play a rhyming game. But if they don’t already know the importance of rhyming in later sounding out words, just reading the rhyming book and/or playing the game (modeling) doesn’t make a connection to early literacy or later reading for them. But they CAN see the fun of it!
    To my way of thinking we need both the messages and the modeling. I agree that no one wants to feel belittled or preached to, of course! When we ourselves become more comfortable with the early literacy behaviors and the whys behind them, then it is easier to feel more like a cheerleader and less like a judgmental instructor. Tess’ article has good suggestions.
    I am curious to hear ways people have been successful with sharing early literacy messages and strategies.

    1. Great points, Saroj. It’s like you say in your book and on your website – Explain AND Empower. I think you are right about getting comfortable with the messaging. It’s more than just reading and researching about early literacy. We, as storytime providers, have to take the time to practice how to say these things out loud. I’m thinking of what a good staff meeting or professional development topic it would be to translate the research into judgment-free early literacy messages you say out loud. I’m sure I would learn so much from others hearing how they do it.

      1. Lindsey this would be a great PD topic! In my experience, I feel way more comfortable incorporating Early Literacy asides now that I am a parent myself. Regularly attending storytimes as a patron with two active children has given me the humbling and indispensable experience of being on the other side of the coin. I think the x factor was getting the chance to observe over and over again rather than being in the driver’s seat. And I wasn’t just observing the storytime leaders, I got to see how lots of parents and children interacted too. My personal journey seems to be right in line with what Saroj is saying (talk about someone who has done a lot of observing πŸ™‚ ) – the more comfortable you are the better! I’ve worked on adding a sense of humor to the delivery AND I’ve simplified my storytimes a lot to allow more space to interact and listen to each other. I love the idea of being a cheerleader. Parenting can be so trying in the early years and it’s like an olympic sport just getting a young child to the library! Go team storytime!

  3. I have found that finding your “voice” in delivering Early Literacy really helps. One of the big ones I use is “caregivers, the more you sing there are multiple benefits, singing helps break down the syllables in words, which helps your little one as they learn, plus the less you have to hear me!”. Caregivers/Parents are so nervous. Worried about doing something wrong and not teaching their little one everything they can. By having fun easy early literacy tips that can be used at home (and modelling in story time) we show that they can use small tips in their daily lives! I also like to tell caregivers that I model tips and behaviors that they can use at home, since I only get to see their little ones usually one time a week. There is nothing better than a caregiver coming back and saying that they have implemented a routine or song that you use in Story time! πŸ™‚ I love your posts Lindsey!

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