While this is of course a very difficult and challenging time for everyone, as children's librarians we face the formidable task of finding a way to provide early literacy programming - a concept which is rooted in personal interaction, forming relationships with kids and adults, modeling behaviors, providing a place for kids and caregivers to socialize - without physically being in the same space together. It's very counter-intuitive, but unfortunately necessary to protect our own health, as well as that of our patrons and the community. And in addition to being a professional and logistical challenge, it is an emotional and personal one as well, since most of us thrive on the interactions with our patrons and without that we've lost much of the joy we normally find in our job.
I find this challenge particularly difficult because I am jumping into this new programming reality 6-8 months after everyone else, and I also have to consider that many in my new service area do not have internet access at home, or if they do, they have limited devices which must be used by older siblings for school. My manager and I discussed a few options, and though initially toyed with the idea of trying outdoor storytime, I felt that it was not the way to go at this time due to rising Covid numbers and dropping temperatures as I didn't think we would be able to do it consistently, and I wanted to invest my time in something I could offer consistently in the hopes I could build a following.
Since the digital divide is very evident, I decided to first focus my efforts on some kind of "grab & go" bag, since those have proven to be successful for older age groups at this library. I asked what kinds of things others were including in similar grab & go bags for this age group in a youth services Facebook group, and got a lot of great ideas. After mulling things over for a few days, I decided to provide caregivers with a list of easy activities they could do with their child at home that supported developing early literacy skills, categorized under the ECRR2 five early literacy practices of talk, sing, read, write, & play.
This would include a list of suggested books (including an alphabet book and a counting book, and trying to include at least a couple that are available in digital format for those with access), words and motions to 2-3 songs/fingerplays/action rhymes, instructions and materials for 2-3 crafts/activities, a couple of coloring/activity sheets, and information about other library services or upcoming events. I also mention how the included activities support development and literacy, and I will focus on one practice area each time with more detailed info. I don't want to overwhelm parents with too much or sound too "preachy", and I also want to keep things as simple and basic as possible, to show them how easy it is to incorporate into everyday activities and things they already do. I decided to develop one per month, as it is time consuming to plan and assemble them, I have other programming to work on developing, and I am a one-person children's department.
So, what does my first kit look like exactly? Keep in mind this was thrown together rather hastily, and I hope to be a little more intentional in the future, and I'm sure it will evolve and become more polished as I go. Since it was November, I somewhat themed it around fall and Thanksgiving. This month's kit included:
- Sheet with all the suggested activities on the front; songs/fingerplays/action rhymes and instructions for included craft/activities on the back, along with a plug to follow our Facebook page for info and virtual programming.
- Book Suggestions:
- The Very Busy Squirrel by Nancy Tafuri
- Mouse Loves Fall by Lauren Thompson
- Bear Says Thanks by Karma Wilson
- The Thankful Book by Todd Parr
- Run, Turkey, Run by Diane Mayr
- I Know and Old Lady Who Swallowed a Pie by Alison Jackson
- The Dinosaur Alphabet Book by Jerry Pallotta
- Chicka Chicka 1, 2, 3 by Bill Martin, Jr.
- Have You Ever Seen a Pumpkin
- If You're a Turkey & You Know It
- Ten Little Turkeys
- Included Craft - Tissue Paper Tree
- construction paper
- 2" tissue paper squares in shades of yellow, orange, red, & green
- (Did not include glue or crayons as we didn't have the means this time)
- Included Activity - Sorting & Stringing Beads
- pony beads (a small Dixie Cup roughly 3/4 full, so maybe 100?)
- 4 pipe-cleaners, assorted colors
- 2 pieces of yarn, about 2'
- Coloring sheets
- Bookmarks with info on library services (not pictured)
- digital resources
- custom book bundles
- Die cut pumpkin & turkey (just as a bonus, since we had the dies and it was quick & easy)
Below is a closer view of the front and back of the info sheet, and if you click on it you should see it even larger:
I also did a short live video to introduce myself to the community and share some of my favorite picture books, and I'll probably do one more targeted to school-age kids and talk about some of my favorite middle-grade books (so hard to pick just a few!). I will continue the monthly early literacy grab & go kits, but I am also going to start virtual storytimes next month for those that do have access and see how it goes. I miss the performance aspect of reading aloud in storytime, and though virtual isn't quite the same without that audience feedback, it's better than nothing, so I hope there will be some interest despite mass screen fatigue. I'm really hopeful that in the spring we can revisit the idea of outdoor programming.