As youth librarians for the very young, we know that our audience isn’t just the children in our communities, but also their families. We also know that there is another important caregiver audience out there, the early childhood care provider. A very broad term, early childhood care providers may work in public or private preschools, Head Starts, day care centers, places of worship, businesses or private homes. They may have varying levels of education and experience but they all work hard to give the children in their care quality experiences. Youth librarians are in wonderful positions to support them with books and resources but in some cases can also provide more formal professional development on topics such as early literacy and using picture books in classrooms. If your library is interested in providing formal professional development for early childhood care providers, here are some tips.
- Learn about local and state training requirements. Each state determines how much annual professional development providers need to have to be licensed and where they can obtain it. Additional factors like accreditation, funding or local requirements may have an impact as well. For example, in Missouri, full time staff at all licensed facilities need to have 12 hours of professional development from approved sources. Anyone wanting to provide that development can become a registered trainer and then submit training for approval. Providers often have to get their professional development in evenings or on weekends so they are far more likely to be interested if they get training credit for it. Do some research to find out what the requirements are in your area and see if it is possible to meet them.
- Scheduling and hosting a training at your library for any providers that want to attend may work well but it also may be difficult to advertise and get people to attend. In addition, consider presenting sessions at local conferences. Are there local groups like Child Care Aware that set up special professional development days? That can be a draw to providers since they can get several hours of training credit at once. Head Starts and public schools may also have special inservice days. In addition to being ensured an audience, participating in a large training day can draw attention to your library as an early childhood partner. In best cases, attendees who like your session may even ask you to come and do private trainings at their facility for all of their staff. Going where the providers are can set you up for success.
- Remember what the educators’ role is. They know what the research and best practices say and they know what skills their children need to gain. The challenge can be determining the best experiences to offer in the care environment. Public librarians can excel at this because that is exactly what a storytime is – a play-based experience that develops early literacy skills. Providers are often looking for activity ideas and how to draw the connection between the theory and the practice. If this is something you or your staff are good at, consider sharing that skill.
- Bring it back to books! Early childhood care provides LOVE using picture books in their environments but can’t always keep up with what is new. A training that showcases new books and ways to use them in the classroom is almost always appreciated. Great read-alouds are important, but also include good books for one-on-one reading and books that focus on math and science. Providers often use books across the curriculum and throughout the care environment so share books on a variety of topics and formats. Providers are looking for opportunities to make the text-to-life connection so will always love books with experiences they can recreate or observe. Finally, keep in mind to share books with lots of characters, families and experiences. Children need “mirrors and windows” meaning they need lots of books that reflect themselves and their lives and lots of books that show them what others’ selves and lives look like. Diversity of all kinds is essential.
- Finally, be prepared for questions about how to best use your library’s resources. This includes the basics like how to get a library card and how to place holds but also think about more unusual questions they may have. What happens if a book gets ruined in their classroom? What if a provider works inside your service area but lives outside of it? Does your library offer educator or business cards? What about special services to early childhood providers? If you present outreach storytimes to classrooms, be prepared to talk about how they can get signed up for that service. Some libraries are able to provide individualized booklists for curriculum topics and some even pull the books and place them aside for providers to come and pick up. If your library offers those services, be ready to talk about them.
As with any new undertaking, make sure you thoroughly discuss it with your supervisors and coworkers to develop a plan that makes best use of time and skills. Even if your library isn’t ready to jump in to providing training, there may be other ways to let providers know how you can support them. No matter what you do, keep in mind early childhood care providers when you think about serving young children. They are an important patron base!