Looking for ways that your library can serve teen parents and their children? At Santa Clara City Library, we can say that our family literacy librarian wrote the book on it – literally. Our own Ellin Klor, along with Sarah Lapin from the San Mateo (CA) County Library, co-authored Serving Teen Parents: From Literacy to Life Skills (ISBN 1598846930.) Ellin and Sarah wrote the book based on their extensive experience in partnering with community agencies to deliver quality programs to this high-need population.
I recently interviewed Ellin and Sarah about their new book, and asked them to share advice for librarians interested in outreach to this underserved audience.
What can readers expect to learn from your book?
Ellin: We decided to approach our book from the concept that teen parents are operating in two very different arenas – as teenagers who are working through the maturation process, and as parents who have to be responsible for the well-being of their children. Sometimes these two roles can be contradictory and even in conflict. In our book we address the needs that teen parents have in both areas, and what libraries can do to support them. Examples are educational and vocational information programs, parenting through children’s books, recreational programming like crafts and cooking, and young children’s early literacy and learning through reading, singing, and play. In addition, we provide background information on the social emotional situation of teen parents, communicating effectively with teens, the development and funding of teen parent services, staff training, and how to establish community partnerships.
Sarah: This book offers best practices and professional anecdotes for effective programs to use with teen parents and their children. There is a diverse array of program ideas, as well as a step-by-step guide on how to implement them with the groups the readers works with in their own community.
How do you adapt a traditional storytime format to fit the needs of teen parents and their children?
Ellin: Plan for lots of interactivity and emphasize simple songs and fingerplays. Select books that lend themselves to participation. Draw the parents in by having them use puppets for a song like “Old MacDonald.” Model activities that will be easy for the teens to do again on their own at home. The age of the children may vary from infants through early elementary, so plan activities that are flexible enough to work for a wide age range. Minimize your dialogue between activities and keep everything moving, but stay calm because it’s easy for your group to get wound up. Understand that this may be a new experience for both parents and children, and it may be several storytime sessions before they participate. Be flexible, embrace the chaos if it happens, and don’t dwell too much on perfect storytime behavior. Sometimes the best thing to do is to follow the group’s lead. Integrate early literacy techniques into your program by briefly highlighting their value as you use them. Keep smiling!
Share a success story.
Sarah: At a local transitional housing facility, I work with a great group of young moms while the children are enjoying a storytime in a separate room. In one workshop, the teen mothers were asked to create their own storybook for their children where they could share a personal story or choose a topic that aligned with the specific interests of their young boy or girl. A new mom in the group was having difficulty figuring out how to create this individualized book. As a way to encourage creative ideas, I asked her what the last book was that she read to her son, who was almost one-year-old. She responded with a somewhat confused look on her face and said, “Oh, I’ve never read a book to my baby.” From that moment on, there was personalized instruction and rich discussion on the importance of reading to children and the different methods that can be used to share a story. This young mom now reads to her child many times a week, building his language and preparing him to succeed in school and in life.
Ellin: I work with a high school teen parent class, and we always have a really fun program for our last meeting of the school year. This year it was a “Spa Day” at the library. The teens mixed their own facial scrubs, masks, and toners using inexpensive household ingredients. With the lights dimmed and relaxation music playing softly, they stretched out on quilts with facial masks and cucumber slices on their eyes. After their spa treatments, they made sachets and bath salts with dried lavender and rose petals. It was one of those programs where the joy was bouncing off the walls. Their teachers told us that they couldn’t stop talking about their spa morning at the library for weeks. With the busy lives that these teens lead, having a few hours just to relax and pamper themselves was so special for them.
What is the biggest challenge you face in serving teen parents, and how do you overcome it?
Ellin: Library services and their potential benefits can initially seem irrelevant in relation to the overwhelming daily responsibilities that teen parents face. By presenting programs that they enjoy, that help them to be better parents, or make their children happy, the teens come to recognize the value of what you have to offer.
Sarah: One of the biggest challenges I face when working with the teen parents is to make sure that they are engaged in the activity. Their attention span may be small, or they may be distracted because their minds are elsewhere. To address this while facilitating an activity or discussion, I try to use as many interactive activities as possible. Additionally, during a discussion, I follow their lead. If we stray slightly from the topic I have chosen but the discussion is still relevant to their learning and growth, I go with it. Flexibility is key when working with this population. Being flexible with your program or storytime will allow you to try an activity in a different way if the original strategy does not work with your group.
What advice would you give to librarians who want to begin outreach to teen parents?
Sarah: It can be difficult to identify teen parents in your general population of library users. They may not be frequent library users. However, often many young families use school and other community social services – this is a great place to begin. One of the most effective strategies that I have found is to connect and collaborate with a local community agency or school that already serves teen parents and their children. This way you get a pre-established group of families. The partner agency will often do the recruitment and outreach for you, making your job a lot easier!
In your years of serving teen parents, have you seen any changes in the field?
Ellin: I believe that there has been increasing recognition of the importance of helping teen parents be great parents, and the crucial role that early literacy plays in their children’s future success. This has lead to more support for teen parent library services, both within the library and from the community.
Sarah: I agree with Ellin. Despite the many stigmas and preconceived notions surrounding teen parents and their children, many library professionals are acknowledging the critical importance in serving this high-need population. Library staff members are increasingly recognizing their own role in supporting teen parent families with literacy and lifelong learning skills that will help to mitigate many of the negative outcomes associated with teen parenting.
Serving Teen Parents will be released by Libraries Unlimited on September 30, and is available through Amazon.
Posted by Susan Baier, Santa Clara (CA) City Library