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Back to Basics Part III: Making a Mark through Writing

Writing development starts early.
Just as librarians, parents, caregivers and teachers know that snuggling up to read side by side with little ones is the best and most basic way to promote a love of reading, and everyday play is the powerful, natural way to explore the world and make learning fun, it’s also important to remember that positive early writing experiences are also fundamental to building strong and balanced literacy.

I was an elementary literacy specialist for years before hopping over to the wonderful world of libraries over a decade ago. In the classroom, it was awesome watching children beam with confidence when they gradually made sense of those squiggly marks on the page, solving the mysterious puzzle that is reading.

I now love nothing more than connecting the dots from joyful library storytimes to later reading success. The power of storytime is remarkable. I recently watched a virtual storytime by Ms. Lauren. She sang, Hello Everybody Can You Touch Your Nose, talked about happy, sad, mad and silly feelings and faces and read Mad Mad Bear by Kimberly Gee. Watching our storytime providers intentionally build early literacy skills while having such fun with children and families, even virtually, is so gratifying! Our storytime providers know that what they are doing ultimately leads to reading success.

I know the majority of these storytime attendees will land in kindergarten ready and able to learn to read independently because they’ve developed the motivation, background knowledge, print awareness, letter knowledge, vocabulary, phonological and narrative skills that beginning readers need to succeed. The 1st edition of the research-based Every Child Ready to Read (ECRR) parent education initiative outlined these critical skills and paved the way for librarians to understand and share what they know about early literacy. In ECRR’s 2nd edition, the emphasis was on showcasing five easy practices- ways for parents to build the early literacy skills- through reading, singing, talking, playing and writing with children every day. (www.everychildreadytoread.org)

What still leaves adults scratching our heads, it seems, is navigating the writing part of early literacy. Do we know how to offer thoughtful writing experiences? Do we talk to parents about writing with as much gusto as we do other aspects of early literacy?

Not so much, it appears. If lots of libraries are addressing early writing with great intent, we don’t seem to be hearing much about it. According to the Executive Summary and Recommendations described in Bringing Literacy Home: An Evaluation of the Every Child Ready to Read Program, http://everychildreadytoread.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/11/2017-ECRR-Report-Final.pdf the author-evaluators visited 60 libraries and found through their many storytime observations that writing was very rarely addressed, and greater attention to writing was strongly recommended. Why?

Writing is an essential, basic life skill and a fundamental part of communicating. Zero to Three, defines early literacy as what children know about communication, verbal and nonverbal language, reading, and writing before they can actually read and write.

Although reading and writing go hand in hand, I remember as a classroom teacher noticing large ability gaps and a frequent reluctance to write. Writing needs positive attention early on.

I don’t think we can go wrong integrating writing into storytime and reminding parents and caregivers of a few basic things:

Children will see themselves as writers and build confidence early if we simply offer the opportunity. Provide fun paper and writing tools as a part of a daily routine. Let them experiment making marks with chunky chalk, pencils, pretty crayons, and even markers if you dare! As early as one, pull out paper, dry erase boards, and encourage and acknowledge any and all writing attempts so that it’s fun!

Write in front of kids. Young children benefit from watching and listening to us as we write. Making sure they see us write with purpose and hearing us reading and talking about our writing every day can go a long way to motivating children and helping them to understand the reading-writing connection. Write children’s names, label objects and ask for input, make signs and lists, create menus, write notes, write their stories, and incorporate drawing and writing into play.

Read. As always, children can learn pretty much everything from good books! Have you read Fly Flies by Ziggy Hanaor, Perfect by Max Amato, The Thank You Letter by Jane Cabrera, or The Perfect Gift by Mary Newell DePalma? There are many wonderful picture books that involve writing. Check out Colorado Libraries for Early Literacy (CLEL) for the annual CLEL Bell Picture Book Awards https://www.clel.org/clelbellawards which recognize 5 high-quality picture books supporting early literacy development, including writing.

As we begin reopening libraries and even while we may continue to provide mostly virtual experiences, I hope we can remember to encourage basic writing with young children. It doesn’t have to be overwhelming, it is fun, and it is important!

Want to learn more? Check out:

Zero to Three
https://www.zerotothree.org/resources/305-learning-to-write-and-draw

Reading Rockets
https://www.readingrockets.org/looking-at-writing

Primary Grade Writing Instruction: A National Survey https://www.researchgate.net/publication/232602527_Primary_Grade_Writing_Instruction_A_National_Survey

Supporting Early Writing in Centers: The Why and The How
http://www.vpiplus.org/blog/2018/10/18/early-writing/

Today’s blog post was written by Lori Romero, Supervisor of the Child and Family Library Services department for the Arapahoe Libraries in Colorado, on behalf of the ALSC Early and Family Literacy Committee. She can be reached at lromero@ald.lib.co.us

This post addresses the following ALSC Core Competencies: I. Commitment to Client Group, VII. Professionalism and Professional Development

One comment

  1. Lindsey

    How funny – I did the exact same live storytime as Ms. Lauren on Friday! A great choice of books and songs to promote social emotional learning.

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