Know Your Role… and brag about it!

I participated in an Every Child Ready to Read 2 session today. If you’re not familiar with ECRR2, it’s basically the methodology that librarians, parents, preschool teachers, and other adults who are children’s first educators use to help them get ready to read.
During the session, participants in our small group portion expressed a great deal of self-doubt. ECRR2 encourages storytime leaders to give thoughtful “asides” to parents.  So, for instance, while reading The Seals on the Bus, a librarian might point out to attending parents that the children are loving the rhymes and songs because it’s helping them learn about syllables and parts of speech. While of course we want to have fun learning with the kids during the storytime, the point is to help parents learn what they can do to help their kids get ready to read.
This is a change from the “old school” library ways.  Years ago, it was common practice to bar parents from attending preschool storytime based on a belief that it would help children transition to Kindergarten. Now we know that developing early literacy skills, the things kids learn about reading and writing before they can actually read and write, are the single most important indicators of a child’s future reading success, and thus increase their likelihood to succeed in school and avoid things like, jail and poverty.  Guess who kids look to most for guidance about how important reading and writing are, and how they can read and write?  Yup, parents.  Preschoolers echo what King Louie sang in the Jungle Book, “I wanna be like you!
Parents are not only a crucial ally in the quest to get kids ready to read, they are the number one force in the child’s chances for success.  Kids will mimic parent behaviors, which hopefully include reading, writing, singing, talking and playing.

Speaking of mimicking… You know who wants to be like librarians?  Kids.  It’s true.  I can’t tell you how many times parents have told me that their little ones played “Miss Sarah” at home.  They line up stuffed animals, dolls, younger siblings, good-natured parents and grandparents, and “read” books to them, sing songs, dance, and basically mimic everything we do in storytime.

You know who else wants to be like librarians?  Parents.  When their three year old threatens to melt down in utmost embarrassing fashion, who soothes them about how toddler brain development pushes kids to seek independence and test boundaries? When it seriously seems impossible that there are any books left on dinosaurs that they haven’t read 3,000 times, who finds the exact one that will please parent and child?  Lastly, which publicly funded employees do community members trust more than any other?  If you answered Librarians to any of the above.  Ding, ding, ding!  Give yourself 3,000 points!

So, from where does this worry about irritating parents with our knowledge emanate? The librarians in our group with this worry reflected on their own experiences as parents.  They thought that they would be annoyed attending a storytime at which the librarian periodically pointed out winning strategies.  Yet, it’s unlikely that parents would be offended if a swimming teacher told them strategies to help their children overcome fear of the water, or avoid drowning.

One issue is that librarians sometimes are afraid of grabbing that crown of Early Literacy Expert, and wearing it with the pride that they deserve.  One lady in our group asserted with full sincerity that parents most certainly do not seek her counsel or view her as a literacy expert.

example conversation with shy librarian:

But certainly a parent has asked you for recommendations for her reluctant or struggling reader?

Well, yes. 

Has a parent ever confided in you about his concerns about his child’s development, behavior or reading interests?

Well…yes.

Did you suggest some resources?

Of course.

Did the parent take them?

um, yes, actually. 

Viola!  Congratulations!  You ARE a community literacy expert.  Here’s the deal though.  To keep this amazingly important job, you have to tell people about it.  You have to brag.  The work we do in storytime and generally around early literacy makes a huge difference.  Children who begin Kindergarten with the skills we help them develop are more likely to graduate from high school, stay out of prison, get higher paying jobs, etc…  People like those stories.  In fact, people like those stories enough to continue to pay for libraries and, you know, librarians.  But, they have to hear them.

Librarians, it’s time to get unquiet.  If you’re afraid that parents won’t like you telling them what to do, try this: Ask them to vote.  “Who here would like to know how your child can be ready to read by Kindergarten.” Chances are the parents are aligned with you in that goal.  Work on it together, and embrace your role. Librarians are the number one advocates and experts on early literacy. The best thing you can do to help the kids is to toot your own horn.

As we say in Baby & Me, “Sing out loud. Sing out strong. Your babies love your voice!”

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