Children's Librarians are Experts

Children’s Librarians are Experts at Preparing Children for Kindergarten

At Columbus Metropolitan Library we made an intentional change in the way we present our Ready for Kindergarten Storytimes.   A large number of children in Franklin County, Ohio do not possess the basic skills to begin kindergarten, putting them on a trajectory of consistently being behind their peers in school.  During the 2017-2018 school year 41.9% of children in Franklin County were not ready to begin kindergarten at the level required by the Ohio Department of Education.  As book professionals and story time professionals we know we have a role to play in improving these odds for our community.  Our Storytimes still have the same books, stories and songs but we added a level of parent participation and knowledge sharing we had not tried previously. In this blog post I will share how I plan and implement my weekly toddler Storytime.   At first, the idea of being an expert in early childhood literacy was intimidating.  While I have a Master’s Degree in Library and Information Science, I do not have an advanced degree in early childhood literacy.  What I do have is the passion and ability to research information and share it with others.

I focus on four skills of kindergarten readiness and display this sign explaining them during each Storytime session.

Ready for Kindergarten Skills sign

I choose to focus on one of these skills each week.  For example, this week I focused on Beginning Sounds.  Even though this program is for toddlers, the content is mainly aimed at parents and the things they can replicate at home to help their child prepare for school.  I remind parents that even though it seems a long way off we are building the foundation for academic success – that work begins right now.

Before Storytime begins, I give children hand stamps of the letter of the day.  This week it was E.  I also have books set up on the floor so families can read together before we begin.  I encourage them to check the books out throughout the program.  I begin each of my Storytimes reminding the parents of the four skills and then briefly share a piece of research.  A grandmother jokingly calls them my Ted Talks even though they are roughly 30 seconds long.  I put a couple of bullet points on the white board so caregivers can glance at it during each program.  Sometimes a caregiver will take a picture with their phone.

I used information about symbolic thinking I read about in Building The Reading Brain by Pamela Nevills and Patricia Wolfe.  This was my paraphrased message to caregivers.

“Letters are basically symbols for sounds.  Pointing out letters during reading shows the child these squiggles have meaning.  A child can start to recognize letters when they develop symbolic thinking.  This happens around 2 – 2 ½ years of age.  When you see a child pretending to be something like a lion or Spiderman or using a banana as a phone that is the clue they are ready for symbolic thinking.  That is the concept that something can stand for something else.” 

Again, this is high level information for parents and caregivers not for the toddlers themselves.

I sprinkle magic fairy dust on the children to get them ready to learn.  I use this rhyme.

You are a precious child, a creature oh so rare.
I have some magic fairy dust, I’ll sprinkle here and there.

The adults often sing along.  The children believe there is dust. They reach up to catch it even though there is nothing there.

I do four songs throughout my Storytime.  I share information from the book. A Moving Child is a Learning Child often when introducing the children to the songs and movement.

The following is a rundown of this week’s program along with caregiver messages that I weave in and out of the stories, songs and rhymes.

Song: When I Woke Up Today by Laurie Berkner

Message:  “A moving child is a learning child.  Music ignites all areas of development from language to social emotional behaviors and literacy skills. We are going to wake up our brains and our bodies with The Hurray Song.”

Letter of The Day:  Ee – I wrote both the upper and lower case on the board.  I have a letter bag that has things that begin with the letter.  The children anticipate this and get excited.  I always use puppets and pictures.  We sang the song to the tune of The Farmer in the Dell.  I then brought out pictures of eggs, eagles, eyes, Elmo and an elephant puppet.

E says eee.
E says eee.
Every letter makes a sound and E says eee.

Message:  “Exposing children to things that begin with a certain sound strengthens the understanding and connections to that beginning sound.”

Book: Eggs 123 by Janet Halfmann

Message: “When reading together at home, point out the letters on the page.  It helps to find books that use print in interesting ways.  I like the way the numbers pop off the page.  Numbers also help promote symbolic thinking.”

Song: I’m Very Very Tall by The Wiggleworms

Message: “Toddlers need a lot of repetition.  Each week they can do more so doing this same song each week makes them feel confident and successful.”

Flannel Story: Something In The Egg

There’s something in the egg.
What can it be?
There’s something in the egg.
I just can’t see.
Let’s count to three and see.

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Message: “Each of the eggs has a beginning sound.  We will strengthen those connections by unveiling the animal that begins with the sound.  This is an easy game you can play at home with toys, pictures and a blanket.  Grownups, help your little ones guess what is inside.”

Song: Shake Our Sillies Out by The Wiggles

Message:  “Playing with activity songs helps children understand how to follow directions.  This will help them follow teacher directions when they begin preschool and kindergarten.”

Flannel: Humpty Dumpty

Message: “Let’s play with some rhyming now.  We often talk about rhyming during Storytime.  Rhyming does not come naturally to children so we need to practice it over and over again so they understand how it works before they start kindergarten. The rhyming pairs of wall/fall and men/again are written on the board.”

Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall.
Humpty Dumpty had a great fall.
All the king’s horses and all the king’s men.
Couldn’t put Humpty together again.

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Book: Charlie Chick Finds an Egg

Message:  “This is another book that shows letters in an interesting way.  I’ll point out some of the words as we go.  When reading at home together you can point out letters that stand out to get your children comfortable with symbols.”

Fingerplay: Five Eggs

Five eggs, five eggs (One hand, next hand)
That makes ten. (Keep both hands up)
Sitting on top is mother hen. (Make a fist, sit other fist on top)
Crackle, crackle, crackle (make bottom fist shake)
What do you see?
Ten little chicks as fluffy as can be. (Wiggle ten fingers)

Message: “Fingerplays are great examples of symbolic thinking.  We use our fingers to act out other things.  Our fingers are not eggs but we pretend that they are.  This strengthens that understanding and prepares their brains for learning that something can stand for something else, which is symbolic thinking.”

Song: Ring Around the Rosey

Ring around the rosey
Pockets full of posies
Ashes, ashes
We all fall down.

Cows are in the meadow
Eating buttercups
Ashes, ashes
We all stand up.

Message: I sing this song three times in a big circle with caregivers and children.  In between the three times we sing, I have their attention to revisit the letter of the day.  We sing the letter song one more time.  I also remind each of these adults to check out the books on the floor and briefly revisit one of the parent messages.

I focus on the skill and the letter more than the Storytime theme.  Columbus Metropolitan Library uses kits that are rotated through each of our 23 locations.  Each of the kits have books, flannels, rhymes and parent message ideas.  The youth services teams all do the work up front to create the kits and then streamline our weekly planning. This process allows me to use the collective brain of children’s librarians throughout the library system and not have to reinvent the wheel each week.  The three books I shared are the primary sources that I incorporate into my programs.  The Brain Games for Toddlers has brain research on each page.  There are ready made parent messages to use.  I also utilize articles that I keep in a binder and highlight for quick reference.  Here are a few of my favorites:

I hope you find this information helpful in your own Storytime planning.  If you have any questions or ideas that I can try, add them to the comments below or you can reach me at khickey@columbuslibrary.org.

(All photos courtesy of guest blogger)


This post addresses the following ALSC Core Competencies: Programming Skills and Commitment to Client Group.


Head shot of guest blogger, Kris HickeyToday’s guest blogger is Kris Hickey. Kris is the Youth Services Manager at The Whetstone Branch of Columbus Metropolitan Library.  Previously she worked with teens at the Cleveland Heights-University Heights Public Library in Cleveland area.  Before beginning a career as a children’s librarian, she worked as a news producer at various TV stations in Ohio and Miami, Florida.  Her favorite authors are Margaret Atwood, John Green and Tom Angleberger. 

Please note that as a guest post, the views expressed here do not represent the official position of ALA or ALSC.

If you’d like to write a guest post for the ALSC Blog, please contact Mary Voors, ALSC Blog manager, at alscblog@gmail.com.

One comment

  1. Farida Ladipo-Ajayi

    Thank you for sharing, learnt a lot from this article that will be useful for our story times

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