While attending ALA annual in Washington DC this past June, I was fortunate enough to attend a presentation titled Writing Boxes: How libraries can create diverse, welcoming, intergenerational programming to inspire writing as an integral part of supporting literacy and family engagement. I left the program inspired and ready to infuse more writing exercises into my passive programming in my children’s room. Most exciting of all was when presenter, Lisa Von Drasek, shared that the curriculum she developed for use in libraries serving youth was going to be shared for free online through permissions from The University of Minnesota. You can download the free e-book or purchase a physical copy here.
Von Drasek really stresses the importance of making writing fun, that writing and editing are two separate activities that should take place at two separate times, and that sometimes merely changing the medium of writing can jump start a child’s interest. For example, asking a child to write a poem with pencil and paper might not be that exciting to them, but change it up with ink and a paintbrush on parchment and kids will jump at the chance to create. She also champions the use of mentor texts so that children can see high quality examples of the type of writing you want your patrons to strive for. Her curriculum is designed to help librarians run a series of hour long workshops to get the whole family writing. She encourages caregivers to write alongside their children to not only model the behavior, but to help distract the adult from trying to help the child edit when they should only be writing.
The library where I work is in a suburb where the school aged children are involved in so many after school activities that attendance for our scheduled programs is quite a bit lower than programming geared towards the 5 and under crowd. With that in mind, I was inspired to use Von Drasek’s curriculum as a jumping point for passive programming in my branch. Our tween area now has a monthly writing or art prompt that if completed the child will be able to have it displayed in our children’s area or receive a small prize from the reference desk. This October the prompt is to write the first sentence to a spooky story and illustrate it. Next to the sign explaining the prompt I have displayed a few collections of ghost stories that the children can use as mentor texts. I also provided a binder where the kids can include their sentence and picture for other patrons to enjoy. When a child shows me their completed work I let them select a small prize from one of the many leftover items that I have saved from past summer reading clubs. So far I have 73 entries in the binder that include both a picture and a sentence. Some have even gone the extra mile and written down an entire story. On a few occasions I have seen families looking over the binder and laughing at all the great entries.
Writing is a fundamental skill for literacy. The more we can do to encourage and create space for it in our library programming the more we are helping and giving voices to our young patrons.
This post addresses the following ALSC Core Competencies: III. Programming Skills VII. Professionalism and Professional Development.
Melissa Sokol, a Children’s Services Librarian for Dayton Metro Libraries in Kettering, Ohio, is writing this post on behalf of the Public Awareness Committee. She can be reached at email@example.com