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!

18 thoughts on “Early Literacy Messages in Action

  1. Wonderful pointers! I also had a lot of fun reading Breathe. Thanks for including such a great list of resources and for hosting the tour!

    1. Thank you, Kelly! So glad to have you on board!

    1. Wow, that is so lovely to hear! I’ll definitely include you in the round up that’s going live tomorrow. Thanks so much for participating!

  2. Hi gals,

    Just discovered your blog and I’m in love! It’s amazing to see so many great ideas in the one place. I’m really struggling with parent messaging for my storytime, which is aimed at ages 3-5, but mainly consists of ages 4-5 (sometimes 4-7 in the holidays). The kids tend to really like the longer stories and enjoy the direct interaction with the storyteller (most of them don’t want to sit with their parents). Any tips on how I work parent messaging in? I’m thinking handouts might be best?

    1. The older the kids are the harder I find it to weave in the parent messaging. But one simple thing I try to do at preschool storytime is to state why I chose the books I’m reading. It might sound something like, “Today we’re going to read Bulldozer’s Big Day by Candace Fleming. Parents, I chose this book because it’s filled with action words your preschooler may never otherwise encounter. I love finding books that help build your child’s vocabulary.” I try to look up from the kids when I say this. It can feel awkward but then my attention goes right back to the kids. I’ll also try to suggest extension activities they can do at home based on a felt or flannel story. For example, after doing It Looked Like Spilt Milk as a felt story, I encouraged caregivers to ask their child what shapes they see in the clouds when they leave the library. I’ve seen other people do handouts very successfully, though I’ve never done them myself. Storytime Katie wrote a great post about her handouts that I highly recommend: http://www.alsc.ala.org/blog/2014/11/handouts-in-storytime/

  3. When googling “early literacy tips for storytime” you came up as #1. Should have known to come here first, silly me! Jbrary ladies, you have all a storytime librarian gal could ever need. Thank you so much for all you do!

    1. Hi Kelly, thanks for the lovely comment! This round-up was a collaboration between Lindsey and many other brilliant people and we were thrilled to be part of it 🙂

  4. Hi Dana and Lindsey,

    Thanks for all you do–jbrary has been a huge help for me in my first year as a children’s librarian! I wanted to ask if you have any advice or links you could share on how to connect with parents during, before, and after early literacy programs. I’ve found it hard to get parents talking, especially when I’m not leading a class, as I’m somewhat shy. I loved this article and hope I can find some ways to connect to parents so I can begin to have more of these types of conversations.

    1. Hi Neena, thank you so much for your kind words! I’m delighted that Jbrary has been a helpful resource for you. When trying to engage caregivers I keep it pretty casual. I might start by offering a positive comment about the child (i.e. Sophie really seemed to love when we sang Zoom, Zoom, Zoom). You could ask if they or the child had a favourite part of the program which could lead to asking if there’s anything else they’d like to see (like a favourite song). Sometimes I’ll just ask about the kids – what’s Sophie’s favourite book right now? What songs does Sophie like to sing at home? And you can always thank them for coming to the program as a general icebreaker. Having a big smile and friendly demeanor will go a long way! If I feel like I know the caregivers well enough sometimes I’ll just ask how their week’s been going. If you’re comfortable you can offer something about your own week (i.e. I took my niece to the aquarium this weekend and she loved seeing the giant turtle). Building up these types of relationships takes time, so even if all you do is smile and thank everyone for coming as they leave the library is a great place to start.

  5. Thank you for this post! I also (still) have a hard time verbalizing certain early literacy tips. With so many wonderful resources I can study up! This year I printed out a copy of a Storytime Early Literacy Observation sheet to remind myself of all the little, but so important, things to remember to do during storytime. I do virtually all of them, but am still working on the verbalization of these pointers. I’m going to add the tips to the check off sheet and hope that helps me put two and two together to help me vocalize early literacy tips!!

    1. Great idea! Where did you get a copy of the Storytime Early Literacy Observation sheet? Is that from Saroj’s website? I’d love to check it out.

  6. Yes, under “Early Literacy Observation Aids” for Talkers ages 2 – 3. I’m filling up the margins fast, though!

  7. Thank you guys so so much. Our children’s librarians in the Live Oak Public Library system love you!
    We are meeting today to talk about filming short early literacy tips as part of our virtual programming efforts.
    Appreciate you!
    Sha from Savannah

    1. Thank you so much, Sha! I would love to see the videos you create once they are finished. I could see a lot of people loving those 🙂

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