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Friday, April 7, 2017

What's The Point?


"What's the point?"

This question came up in a meeting not too long ago, and to be honest, I was a bit flabbergasted so it took me a minute to respond. 

To give a little context, this was a meeting of all the staff and volunteers that work with our Storytime-To-Go early literacy outreach program. To make things easier, we have a collection of approximately 32 themed storytime kits that we use. Each kit contains roughly 12-15 books that range in style and length, as well as various props, songs, rhymes, and activities to go with them. [I have developed a few of these kits, most were already here when I joined the program].

One person was not happy with one particular kit, which had a very general theme of "Animals" with a varied assortment of books with animal characters. We already had full kits that were more specific, such as "Jungle", "Zoo", and "Farm", so this was kind of a catch-all for other really cute books that we wanted to use. Apparently, this lack of specificity or message really bothered this particular person, and she didn't think it was worthwhile, asking:

"What are they supposed to learn from this? What is the point?"

I was a bit stunned, as I thought the point was obvious: that they get to enjoy some good books and learn that reading is fun! As far as I'm concerned, that is THE point of our whole program, to instill an appreciation for reading, and [hopefully] create life-long readers. I explained that my goal was for them to learn reading is fun, and there wasn't necessarily an intention or need for every kit to have a big lesson or message, but that these books would expose kids to animals they might not be familiar with, in addition to being fun stories.

I want to create as many positive associations with books and reading for these kids as possible. They will get enough required reading, reading for a specific purpose, reading to meet certain criteria, etc., in school. And as most of us know, what happens with regards to reading in school is often counter-productive. We have to reach these kids and instill a love of reading early, hopefully it will be enough to get them through all the experiences that tend to turn kids off of reading later. 

Of course I keep all the early literacy skills in mind, but I can use almost any book to do that in some way, and as a former scientist and teacher, I definitely take the opportunity to work in factual information, as well as basic concepts, lessons in kindness, manners, making good choices, etc. Some of my kits do have more of a purpose, such as "Folk Tales & Nursery Rhymes" for cultural literacy, "Feelings" to learn the names for our emotions and how to express them, as well as recognizing facial expressions and body language, but I don't think every theme has to hit the kids over the head with a strong message or lesson. Heck, I don't even think you *have* to have a theme!

There is nothing wrong with pulling a bunch of fun books that seemingly teach nothing at all, and are just good, silly fun. I think you can work in early literacy skills with any book (even ones about underwear, poop, or farts!), and I strongly feel that the most important "skill" we can teach is the love of reading. If they don't get that first, I don't think they will get very far with the others.

Now, I do get where this person was coming from. She is a former public school librarian, so is accustomed to having to justify everything by somehow tying it into the school district's curriculum. Fortunately, that's one great thing about working for a public library; we are free to follow what we know about early literacy and child development, rather than being subjected to the whims and trends in education, which often totally ignore what is developmentally appropriate. We recognize that PLAY and personal INTERACTION is how young children learn!

So, I'm curious to see what others have to say. Have any others had conflicts with colleagues who have fundamental differences in how they approach storytime? In YOUR opinion, what is the point?

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