Blogger Katie Salo

Speaking Their Language

Several months ago, I wrote a post that I titled Engaging Parents After Storytime which was all about how to encourage parents to do activities together at home that would re-enforce storytime and early literacy skills.

A couple of commenters mentioned that they thought the article might address how to talk to parents/caregivers. And I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about that question and am prepared to offer some tips from a non-parent perspective!

Talk about the babies/children.

While I don’t have my own adorable anecdotes or years of experience to share, guess who does? The parents and caregivers in my storytimes. Before storytime formally begins (I open the door five minutes before start time) and after storytime formally ends, I spent a lot of time talking with the adults about the milestones I see have happened or are about to happen.

“Oh, I see that [baby] is working on sitting up — good job, [baby] and [caregiver]!”

This often results in other adults chiming in on their own experiences with milestones, creating a community share. If you don’t know the suggested ages for milestones, you can do some research to catch up. I do not emphasize where a baby “should” be and instead focus on providing information for parents/caregivers who ask development questions after storytime.

Talk about activities/library.

I can give you a ton of conversation starters for this heading:

Image courtesy of the author, originally posted on Instagram.
An interactive wall panel from PLA, available from The Burgeon Group.
[Image courtesy of the author, originally posted on Instagram.]

“[Baby] really enjoyed when we played The Shape Game today. Did you see these books on shapes?”

“I saw your family’s picture at Family Night. Did you know about our upcoming event this Thursday?”

“It’s great to see you together working on this puzzle!”

“[Child], you have the letter H in your hand. Let’s name things that start with ‘H’ together with your grown-up, okay?”

“I missed you last week! The theme was farm — here are the books we read since you were at the doctor’s.”

I talk about activities and the library to further connect parents to the library and its resources. Since we are all well-versed on what our libraries have to offer — this kind of conversation should come naturally!

Talk about common interests.

Just like you would do with anyone else in the world — be aware of your surroundings and talk about what you notice. I gain a lot of my information from the clothes the children come dressed in! I had one child dressed in a sports team jersey one day. That led to an easy conversation about the team’s standings in the play-offs. Just a few weeks ago, another child was dressed in a Muggle shirt and I got to have a great conversation with a parent & huge Harry Potter fan!

I’ve also noticed what books & DVDs are tucked in the diaper bags or in the bottom of the stroller. I’ve heard parents humming popular songs. I’ve even noticed dog hair on my pants and started talking about pets — anything I can do to make a personal connection with a parent!

Talk about what everyone has been reading.

We’re librarians, after all, aren’t we? If there’s a moment where you need an icebreaker, it’s easy to ask what everyone has recently read. That includes picture books and adult books, too! Be prepared to offer suggestions for the newest board books for your babies and read-a-likes for all.

Talk about relevant current events.

Like the recent New York Times article about the American Association of Pediatrics preparing to recommend reading from birth.

Or the amazing article from Mashable that Renee Grassi linked me to this past week about 3D printing being used to create raised illustrations of classic picture books for the blind.

Or stay up-to-date on baby product recalls — an invaluable resource for parents.

Where do you find articles like this? Twitter is a great suggestion. Or watching the news once a week. My favorite suggestion is reading the headlines online — People magazine does a daily round up on its Moms and Babies page that includes both celebrity news and parenting articles.

Talk about the weather and seasons.

This might not be as fun if you don’t live in Chicago, land of crazy weather and temperamental season changes. But I’ve never had parents laugh so hard as when we’re commiserating about the third straight day of torrential rain or the sudden fifty degree weather in July.

A thank-you card from a parent after storytime session.  [Courtesy of the author, originally posted on Instagram.]
A thank-you card from a parent after storytime session.
[Courtesy of the author, originally posted on Instagram.]

Building these relationships with the parents and caregivers has given me so much back — hugs and colored pictures and thank-you cards and a wonderful sense of community and belonging. I hope employing all or some of these techniques will help you make personal connections with your storytime adults. Do you have any other ideas to share? Let me know in the comments!

(And a special thanks to Jennifer and Awnali for the great blog post idea!)

– Katie Salo
Early Literacy Librarian
Indian Prairie Public Library

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