Friday, September 26, 2014

Early Literacy Summer Library Program

Image Source: Pixabay
Two days before the start of the first summer reading program I had ever planned, I found myself in the hospital, tired but happy to be holding my newborn baby. I also found myself absolutely terrified that my summer reading program--my work baby--which was significantly changed from the way my incredibly popular predecessor had arranged it, would be a huge embarrassing failure. These families I was serving had only known me for 3 months; would they stick around if they hated my program or drive an extra handful of minutes away to a neighboring community? I spent the earliest moments of my maternity leave worrying about the program I abandoned.

Melodramatic? Give Abby-in-May a break, she just had a baby! My biggest worry then was that I was introducing logs in a community where they hadn't been used in years. I anticipated backlash that I wouldn't be there to absorb or deflect. My coworkers would have to champion my changes without my support. I was terrified, but I had made the change after much research and discussion with staff. One of my biggest reasons: Reading logs gave us a stealthy opportunity to teach new parents how to contribute to their children's early literacy skills

Inspired by the La Crosse Public Library's ideas detailed in Marge Loch-Wouters's blog, I created two reading groups for our pre-school-aged patrons (and two for older readers, but that's not my focus
Tiny Tesla Activity Log
here). The first, our birth to 36-month group, was called our "Tiny Tesla Readers," playing off our Fizz Boom Read theme. Their reading logs included 10 light bulbs that suggested STEAM and early literacy activities which changed monthly. These activities suggested pointing out letters and words on signs, playing rhyming games, and drawing shapes in the sand or dirt with sticks, as well as encouraging parents to read to their baby or read their own book while allowing baby to look at (or chew on!) their own books. All the activities were free and easy to fit into daily interactions. When I returned to work, I was overjoyed to have parents tell me they loved the suggested activities, that they felt their children were growing more familiar with letters, and that they were excited to be teaching these concepts through play. These babies and toddlers received rubber duckies with either a letter or a number on them for June and July and a board book in August (thanks to a generous grant from Dollar General). 

Early Einstein Bingo Card
Our next group, "Early Einsteins," included our patrons ages 3, 4, and 5. Their reading logs were BINGO cards that included reading activities, age-appropriate early literacy ideas (practice writing your name, for example), and community stewardship opportunities (do something nice for a neighbor!). Hilarious sidebar: while developing these, I had emailed Marge about something else and she mentioned La Crosse was possibly doing some sort of game board for this age group as well! This age group LOVED their logs and their fun prizes (magnifying glasses, bouncy balls, and bubbles throughout the summer and a book in August). Many of the preschoolers, unprompted by me, started either giving me their letter writing practice pages or waiting until they turned in their logs, while I was watching, to write their names on them.

Now comes the important part: evaluation of success. Overall my
Image Source: Pixabay
enrollment numbers were down from 2013. Bummer. Several factors contributed to this, and I've already considered ways to adjust the program for 2015 to encourage greater enrollment. Even though my numbers were down, I can see the success of our early literacy goals in the logs. The sticker-covered light bulbs, the amount of preschoolers who chose to do blackout BINGO when they only had to get five squares in a row, the effort I know both parents AND children put into the activities shows me the impact we had on the community this year more than a collection of book titles or an accumulation of minutes ever could say.

The families I was so worried would sprint off to another library are still here and I see new families every day. I am proud of my fledgling efforts and everytime I overhear that parents are recommending my storytimes to their friends.We had 310 children ages 0-5 who were enrolled in our summer reading program. They constituted 38.2% of our total enrollment! Even though it's different, I hope to see my management of the children's department follow in the successful footsteps of the librarian who came before me. And now that I've finally put my summer reading baby to bed (it hibernates), forgive me for ending abruptly. My real baby just woke up and smells like he desperately needs me.

Abby Bussen, Youth Services Librarian
Cudahy Family Library, Cudahy, WI