At some point working in a children’s library setting, this may happen to you. Whether it’s the library board, the city council, an administrator, or even one of your customers, they will observe a story time program, be suitably impressed by your event, and ask quite innocently about what exactly you are doing. To the uninitiated, what happens in the room is fun and entertaining. A great place to be in and of itself, but we all know there is lot more to it. Admittedly, in one way or another, these questioners are the ones who pay for what we do, so this provides a great opportunity to inform and enlighten. It’s time to break out your best elevator speech that lends method to the madness.
Here at the library, during our infant, toddler, and preschool programming we build a foundation so when young children are taught to read, they will be ready for more structured learning. We play with words, rhyme, song, and poetry so that young children are able to recognize the smaller sounds that make up words. We introduce puppets, toys, manipulatives, parachutes, and flannel boards so young children can create their own stories or act out stories shared together. We add magnetic letters, the singing of alphabet songs, reading alphabet books, and encourage young children to print their own names so that these small pieces of language figure predominantly in their minds. We introduce well-written and illustrated books, show how reading proceeds in a certain direction, and demonstrate connections between written words and sounds all to alert young children to the importance of these ubiquitous symbols well before they themselves can read. We engage in conversations with, listen to, read with, ask questions of, introduce new words to, and use descriptive language in telling stories to young children; expanding the number of known words which with young children venture forth as they become literate. We strive to be creative, enthusiastic, and interactive using a variety of activities and formats; repeating the stories in new ways so young children can master what they desire to read. So come along, visit us, see how the magic happens, and please do try this at home.
Our providing that foundation is going to take on a whole new level of importance as we deal with the long lasting effects of what I have come to call The Great Distancing. First off, we will get through this whole COVID-19 mess if we keep our wits about us, pay attention to our expert public health colleagues, and do what needs to be done to safely open up, and safely keep open those wondrous places in which we work. Secondly, young children are going to need us, a lot. Those structured learning environments, by the time they can reasonably be expected to operate at anything approaching normal, will have been absent from young children’s lives for upwards of six months. So let’s adjust our masks, disinfect everything we can, and get used to library life at six feet. Soon it will be showtime.
Mike Rogalla is the children’s services manager at the Champaign Public Library in Champaign, Illinois He wrote this piece a a member of the ALSC Early Childhood Programs and Services committee.