Head Start is a federal program that promotes school readiness for children from low-income families. Head Start provides services to enhance these vulnerable children’s cognitive, social, and emotional development. The program provides a learning environment for pre-school age children that supports their growth in language and literacy, general knowledge, health and nutrition, and more. Since its inception Head Start has helped increase school readiness for millions of children from families with incomes below the federal poverty level.
The library I work for, St. Mary’s County Library, has an established partnership with our local Head Start programs. In my branch’s service area there are 2 (soon to be 3) Head Start centers. St. Mary’s County Library is devoted to fostering literacy in our community, particularly to our less financially empowered families, so we make it a priority to visit the Head Start centers, and have the Head Start children visit the library, on a monthly basis. We also sign all Head Start children enrolled in a summer session up for our library’s Summer Reading program, to encourage them to read with their families, and visit the library during the summer. As my library’s Early Childhood Community Liaison, I provide outreach service to Head Start.
When I visit the Head Start centers, I do a story time for them, with books, music, and usually an interactive activity. When they visit the library they get the same story time experience. If I get to visit them during the summer, I do a story time, and then spend time looking at their Summer Reading game boards, rewarding them their Summer Reading prizes, and encouraging them to come to the library.
Around the holiday season each year, the library donates books to the Head Start centers, enough for every child to take home one of their choosing. Books in the house is unfortunately a luxury many low-income families cannot afford, so St. Mary’s County Library does our best to help them out, donating books, and also handing out children’s books at various other outreach events.
Doing story time for Head Start children is always an immensely rewarding experience. The children are usually very engaged in the books we read together, gasping in suspense, laughing out loud, and participating in call and response. They love dancing and singing. And they tend to be very affectionate, shouting compliments as I arrive, like “Hi Ms. Tess! I like your hair today! Your scarf is pretty!” and asking for hugs and high fives as I’m packing up to leave. I’ve even been told by a teacher at one center that the children initially call anyone who visits them “Ms. Tess.”
One of my favorite things to hear the Head Start children say though is “Read it again!” I love it when they’re so excited about a book that they immediately want to hear it read again. I hope the positive experience with books that they get through library visits makes them excited about reading a little more, and helps them be more prepared to read when they hit kindergarten.
I thought I’d share some of my Head Start “Greatest Hits” with you all:
This is an oldie but goodie, about a very noisy farm and a very annoyed farmer. I have all the kids make the sounds of the animals VERY LOUDLY! And then, after the farmer tells us to be quiet, I have them whisper the sounds of all the animals. The kids have a lot of fun making the noises, especially the LOUD ones, and predicting the emotion of the farmer as the noise level goes up and down.
I was really surprised by the kids’ reaction to this one. I thought it was a cute story, about a pig and a rabbit who think so highly of one another they go to humorous lengths to resemble each other. But the kids thought it was a non-stop laugh riot. A pig and a rabbit as friends! What could be more hilarious? Maybe they were just in a silly mood the day I brought it in, but this got a resounding “Read It Again” reception.
In general, the kids love books with call and response or singing. When you put those two things together, you have an unbeatably entertaining combination apparently. After I read this book, twice, the kids were still not finished singing about different colored shoes. As I tried to move on to an activity, they continued to chant “I love my red shoes! I love my brown shoes! I love my blue shoes! I love my white shoes!”
A pop up book is almost always a guaranteed “Read It Again” but this one in particular really resonated with the kids. It’s about a baby bear who hears a noise in his house, and gets progressively more and more frightened as he imagines what terrible things could be lurking in his house making that noise. (Spoiler Alert: It’s just his dad, snoring!) I think the kids can probably relate to the subject matter. Who hasn’t heard a strange noise at night and wondered what it might be?
Everybody’s favorite story about a cannibalistic dog! George is a puppy who meows, quacks, oinks, and moos instead of saying “Arf!” until a veterinarian pulls animals out of George’s belly that George has evidently swallowed alive. I personally thought this story was slightly disturbing when I first read it, but the kids predictably thought it was the greatest thing ever, shouting “Read it again, Ms. Tess! That dog is silly!”
I’m so grateful to have the opportunity to work with these children, through St. Mary’s County Library’s partnership with Head Start. Please leave comments if your library has a good partnership with your local Head Start! I’d love to hear what others have to say, especially your “Read It Again” moments.
Our guest blogger today is Tess Goldwasser, the Youth Services Librarian and Early Childhood Community Liaison at St. Mary’s County Library, Lexington Park, MD. Tess can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you’d like to write a guest post for the ALSC Blog, please contact Mary Voors, ALSC Blog manager, at email@example.com.