Data-driven education is all the rage now — but libraries have been ahead of the curve for a long time, especially in the field of early childhood literacy.
“Libraries are as vibrant as ever and have changed so much over the past 15 to 20 years,” says Clara Bohrer, former president of the Public Library Association (PLA). “We really are hubs of our communities, where families come in and learn together.”
No longer a place that hosts regimented reading events just for kids, libraries across the U.S. are now incorporating family time, STEM and STEAM programs, boisterous play areas and bilingual story times into their infrastructure, knowing that it’s essential to have parents and primary caregivers engaged in their child’s education.
Perhaps the best example of how this works is the Every Child Ready to Read (ECRR) initiative, an evidence-based learning system which gives tools and tips to adults for developing literacy skills in kids from birth. The ECRR program was developed by PLA and the Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC), both divisions of the American Library Association.
“Parents and caregivers are the child’s first and best teachers,” says Bohrer, who was involved with ECRR from the beginning, when researchers from the National Institute of Health helped the PLA design the initial workshops based on the newest brain science.
Among the tips are general teaching methods (singing, talking, reading, writing and playing), which incorporate specific interactive techniques. For example, in the “talk” training, the following practices help young children improve their print awareness:
• Point out signs and logos everywhere and labels on containers.
• Hold a favorite book upside-down or start reading it backwards from the last page.
• Encourage your child to talk about what is “wrong” with the way you are reading the book.
• Point to the text as you read the words, making connection between printed and spoken words.
The results have been encouraging. A study of 60 libraries across the country found that those that used ECRR saw higher engagement among adults and their children than those that didn’t. And the learning has expanded beyond the walls of the library.
“We took these trainings out to where parents were, partnering with other agencies and community groups, holding workshops outside the library with partners people trusted,” says Bohrer. “That outreach effort has attracted more and more families.”
Now, the whole library is a workshop for parents.
Tips For Donors
Make sure organizations have done their homework. For funders in the education sector, it’s essential that you make sure the programs you are supporting are putting forth ideas based on proven research, evidence and best practices.
Focus on early childhood. “Those first three to five years [in a child’s life] are so important,” says Bohrer. “We tell parents all the time that every word they say to their child builds and strengthens the connections in the brain that will help them to think, talk and learn for the rest of their lives.”
Consider funding library programs. Many donors may not think to give money to local libraries — since tax dollars mostly go to supporting these institutions — but with more libraries bringing literacy innovation to communities (especially in pre-K), it’s worth taking a look at which individual programs may be in need of financial help. Says Bohrer, “If there’s one thing people can take away from this is that libraries are now learning centers.”
The Every Child Ready to Read Toolkit, which provides everything public libraries need to offer ECRR programming at the library (and is also available in Spanish), is available at www.everychildreadytoread.org. For more information about the Public Library Association, visit www.pla.org; for more information about the Association for Library Service to Children visit www.ala.org/alsc/.
Original contribution by Gabe Guarente.
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