Early Literacy Messages: Using Personal Stories

Fostering early literacy skills, also known as emergent literacy, is one of my favourite parts about storytime.  I’ve written before about how I include early literacy tips in my storytimes here:

I try really hard to find ways to communicate these things in a friendly, approachable manner.  One of the best ways I’ve found is to couch them in a (very) short personal story.  Now I’m lucky I have a 4-year-old niece in my life that gives me tons of early literacy fodder.  If you don’t have a little one, feel free to adapt my stories!  If I hear a good story from a friend or co-worker I’ll ask their permission to share it in storytime.

reading 4
Farting pony books FTW!

Here are some of my favourite stories about Sophie I tell in storytime to communicate early literacy development.

A Bumpy Road

I used to do this bounce with Sophie when she was a baby all the time.  Then one day when she was about 2-years-old I was pushing her in her stroller and we hit a tree root.  She excitedly exclaimed, “bumpy road!”  It was amazing to see how she had learned new words and a new concept from a simple lap bounce. They really are paying attention!

We Bounce and Bounce and Bounce and Stop

Some songs grow with your child. The other day I took Sophie out to dinner and she was getting quite bored waiting for the food. I plopped her on my lap and started to do this lap bounce.  She was enthralled. Now that she’s four she was able to contribute her own verses such as “We wiggle” and “We shake.” Not only did a song keep her occupied, but it was a great chance for us to cuddle and learn together.

The Frog Goes Tissy, Tissy, Tiss

One of Sophie’s favourite songs when she was a toddler was “Mmm, Ahh Went the Little Green Frog.” However, she liked to switch the verses and insisted that the frog goes, “tissy, tissy, tiss.”  Even though she couldn’t pronounce the “k” sound as a toddler, this song helped her practice it in a fun way.  Rather than correcting her pronunciation, we just sang this verse a lot!

Sophie, Put Your Shoes On

If you’ve ever struggled with getting a baby or small child dressed I totally feel you! When my niece was a toddler I would sing this song about all the items of clothing she needed to put on – shoes, socks, gloves, hat.  When I subbed in her name for “baby” she payed more attention, and it helped turn a struggle into a more enjoyable activity.

Oh, I Wish I Was a Little Bar of Soap

When Sophie was about one she developed a fear of taking baths. She didn’t like getting wet, she would scream when we tried to put her in the tub – it was a stressful situation for all.  Then one day I took one of her toys and started to sing this song. The crying stopped! I had to sing this song about 20 times during every bath time but it helped calmed her.

Let’s Stack the Books

stack of books

It’s common for kids to go through stages where they either don’t appear interested in reading or don’t have the attention span to sit and listen to a story.  When Sophie was a toddler my focus was on making books fun, even if we weren’t reading them.  This sometimes meant grabbing a stack of board books (not the ones pictured!) and making a tower together.  We might only look at one page before getting back to building, but books were still a part of our daily routine.

I Can’t Read


One time Sophie and I were reading a book and I asked her to read it to me.  She looked at me incredulously and said, “I can’t read!” We had “read” books together before where she “reads” the pictures, so I was startled by her declaration.  One of the ways I’ve tried to build her confidence since then is to find books without words or with only one word. One of our favourites is Moo! by David LaRochelle.  She loves that she knows the word in the book and can “read” the book to me.

Do you have any personal stories you share at storytime to communicate the importance of early literacy? I’d love to hear them!

Early Literacy Messages in Action: Blog Post Round Up

This week on Jbrary we’re talking about how and why we incorporate early literacy messages in storytime.  I wrote all about my methods earlier this week, but the extra special part of this conversation is that it is happening on many other youth services blogs!  I have been so moved by everyone’s willingness to share about this topic (I may or may not have been crying while reading these posts), and I already know from comments we’ve received that this type of practical information is needed by storytime practitioners.  Please check out all these other amazing posts – it’s the Early Literacy Messages in Action Round Up!

Early Literacy Messaging Graphic

Kendra at Read Sing Play writes about how conveying early literacy messages starts right when caregivers arrive. She shares an excellent example of weaving an aside into a song transition. Main message: Be enthusiastic and engaging!

Erin at erinisinire traces her storytime planning journey over the course of the past three years. By ditching themes and focusing on the early literacy messages, her process changed dramatically. She shares examples of what she says to caregivers and links to some awesome resources.

Katie at Storytime Katie directly addresses common concerns people have about incorporating early literacy messages. She shows you how to take a formal aside and turn it into a conversational transition.  The feedback from her storytimers is testament to her genius!

Mary at Miss Mary Liberry highlights the importance of catering your early literacy messages to your audience and community.  She shares her best tips – use humour, be positive, demonstrate your genuine fascination – that help her convey these early literacy “reminders.”

Kelly at Practice Makes Perfect shows you how to “keep it simple.” She explains how after attending a workshop by guru Saroj Ghoting, she took the idea of an “empower aside” and worked it into her storytime transitions.

Lisa at Libraryland knows from being a library manager how early literacy messages in storytime factor into larger library initiatives.  By practicing her messages in her low-key baby play time, she gained the confidence to naturally weave them into storytime.

Kim at Literary Commentary shares her “stealth” method of incorporating early literacy messages and provides examples of library brochures and handouts she gives out to caregivers at storytime. She’s also got a stellar list of websites to visit for more early literacy information.

Kelly at Ms. Kelly at the Library not only created our awesome logo, but also wrote a post about the why and how she incorporates early literacy messages. She’s got some awesome examples and links to where to find more.

Brooke at Reading with Red created a Top 5 list of things she wished she knew about early literacy when she first became a librarian. Her list is the perfect combination of encouragement and practical advice for getting started with early literacy messaging.

Laura at Literacious covers the three major ways she tries to talk to her caregivers – storytime, parent/child workshops, and through their 1,000 Books Before Kindergarten program. A great reminder of how we can include these early literacy goodies in all sorts of library programs.

Melody at Storytime Bandit gives four tips on how to make storytime more than entertainment by incorporating early literacy messages. Read til the end for links to favourite websites.

Mel at Mel’s Desk shares her favourite part – the message template she created! It not only tells caregivers why we do things but also how it contributes to their child’s reading development. Don’t miss the video clip of Mel in action!

Katy at That’s So Juvenile lays out her three guiding principals for using early literacy messages in babytime. She had me at her Harry Potter reference!

If you’re thinking , “I’d love to share what I do!” well it’s not too late to join! Write a post (or ask about writing a guest post!) about how or why you include early literacy messages in storytime and leave a comment with a link to your blog post. I’ll be sure to add it to this round-up.

Thank you to everyone who has participated so far!  This series is a testament to our profession.  I am so dang proud.

Early Literacy Messages in Action

Understanding and advocating for early literacy is one of the most important aspects of my job.  One of the most frequent places I can talk to caregivers about early literacy is storytime.

We often get asked where we find our early literacy messages and how we incorporate them into a storytime setting.  So this week, along with many other youth services bloggers, we will be sharing our advice and experience incorporating early literacy messages into storytime.  We bring you the Early Literacy Messages in Action Blog Tour!

Early Literacy Messaging GraphicWe’ll be posting a round-up on Friday of everyone who shares a post on this topic.  We’ll be sharing our posts on Twitter and Instagram using the hashtag #EarlyLitInAction.

Incorporating Early Literacy Messages Into Storytime

I don’t believe there is one right way to do this. Just like we all have our own storytime style, we all have different ways of talking to our community members. In general, my style is very relaxed, conversational, and informal.  Some people may be afraid to sound preachy or condescending, but I’ve found that when I keep the asides simple and casual this doesn’t happen. Also, if I can make the early literacy tips personal by sharing stories about my nieces and nephews that goes a step a further by helping me develop relationships with my storytimers. Here are three ways I incorporate early literacy messages in storytime.

1. In My Welcome Message

The main point I try to get across to caregivers in my welcome message is that storytime is a chance for them to bond with their child and develop a positive, loving relationship. So when they sing with their child, help them with the rhymes, and sit with them during the stories, they are making their child feel safe and loved.  When kids feel safe and loved, their brains are more open to learning.  This early literacy message works doubly to encourage caregivers to participate during storytime rather than sit on the sidelines.

2. Before or After Singing, Reading, or Rhyming

Connecting an early literacy tip to a rhyme, song, or book helps me remember to say it. I’ll often write the message down on my storytime planning sheet too.  Saroj Ghoting has a blog with a plethora of early literacy asides for specific songs and books called Storytime Share.  I try to work in at least one tip per storytime, but if I’ve got a really calm group I can often fit in more. But I’m cautious of over-burdening the caregivers with information, especially if they are new to storytime.

Here are three examples of  how I actually say early literacy tips to caregivers.

“We’re going to sing a song now about fruits and vegetables. This song has lots of great action words in it like peel, mash, shuck, pop, slice, and squeeze.  Today when you eat lunch or dinner, try using these words again or introducing new words about the foods you’re eating with your child.”

“Can everybody make their hand into a fist?  We’re going to pretend our hand is a beehive today. We’re also going to practice counting to five. Who here can count to five? Okay, here we go (say rhyme two times).  I love doing this rhyme because it helps kids develop their finger muscles which they’ll need when they learn to write. Any rhyme or song that encourages your child to separate their fingers is great for this development.”


“We’re going to read a book called Breathe by Scott Magoon.  Before we read, let’s all practice taking a big breathe (practice breathing in and out).  How do you feel when you take a deep breathe? It makes me feel calm and happy. This book is a great way to teach kids how to calm themselves when they feel upset which we can model by breathing deeply.”

3. In 1-1 Conversations with Parents

If it feels uncomfortable to make these kind of statements in storytime, take advantage of the 15 minutes before and after storytime to interact with caregivers and kids 1-on-1. During this informal time, I’ve told many parents of toddlers that it’s okay if their child can’t sit still for an entire book – just read what you can and then move on but keep the experience positive. My messages can be more specific based on the child and sometimes the concerns of the parent.  When delivering early literacy messages becomes tied to developing relationships with my community members, it’s a double win!

Early Literacy Messages Resources

Here’s where you can find early literacy messages to use in storytime.

General Early Literacy and Childhood Development Books

  • So Much More than ABCs: The Early Phases of Reading and Writing (2013) by Judith A. Shickedanz and Molly F. Collins
  • Language Development in Early Childhood (2013) by Beverly Otto
  • Handbook of Early Literacy Research: Volume 3 (2011) Edited by Dickinson and Neuman
  • NurtureShock: New Thinking About Children (2011) by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman
  • Pink Brain, Blue Brain: How Small Differences Grow into Troublesome Gaps – And What We Can Do About It (2010) by Lise Eliot
  • The Philosophical Baby (2010) by Alison Gopnik
  • Mind in the Making: The Seven Essential Life Skills Every Child Needs (2010) by Ellen Galinsky
  • Proust and the Squid: The Story of Science and the Reading Brain (2008) by Maryann Wolff
  • From Lullabies to Literature: Stories in the Lives of Infants and Toddlers (2008) by Jennifer Birckmayer and Anne Kennedy 
  • Growing a Reader from Birth: Your Child’s Path from Language to Literacy (2004) by Diane McGuinness
  • Handbook of Early Childhood Literacy (2003) Edited by Hall, Larson, and Marsh
  • From Neurons to Neighborhoods: The Science of Early Childhood Development (2002) edited by Jack P. Shonkoff and Deborah A. Phillips

Would you like to join us in blogging about early literacy messages in action?  Feel free to use the blog title and logo in your post, and leave us a comment letting us know about it!