Blogger Tess Prendergast

Picture Book Playtime: An Inclusive, ECRR-Inspired Early Literacy Program Model 

I have not run storytime in a long time as I left the library to start teaching in a MLIS program almost 5 years ago. Not going to lie, I really miss working with little kids and their grown-ups! One of the last programs I ran was called Picture Book Playtime. It is a simple station-based program that I adapted from others I had read about. My goal was to make something totally inclusive that offered various ways for the ECRR practice of writing to be highlighted. In these sessions, I had a very diverse group of kids attend, including kids who had developmental disabilities, and recent newcomer families who were new to English. Everyone thrived. Moreover, the adults (parents, nannies, grand-parents, etc.) all helped each other out. It was important to me that I kept the group small, structured with some room for flexibility on the fly, simple, low-cost, and most important of all, supportive. Picture books are perfect jumping off points for so much early literacy learning and community-building. Here’s how it worked! 

Picture Book Playtime is intended to be a small-group program for a maximum of 12 children ages 3 to 5 years old of all abilities (with their caregiver and any siblings). The program content reflects all the tenets and practices of Every Child Ready to Read and specifically provides fine motor activities aimed at supporting the early literacy practice of “writing” for young children.

Every Child Ready to Read focuses on the literacy benefits of the following practices in early childhood: Reading; Talking; Singing; Playing: and Writing. It is relatively easy to model and reflect ways to read, talk, sing, and to a greater or lesser degree, even play during storytimes. But early writing skills include things like scribbling and making marks on paper with crayons or markers, using sidewalk chalk, squishing play dough and mushing up shaving cream or soap suds. We also know that fine motor development activities – really anything that uses fingers, hands and arms and especially paper and pen activities – are important experiences that set kids up for success when they get to school and start learning how to print letters and words. 

Program Description:

The Picture Book Playtime program is designed to include activities that reflect all 5 ECRR practices at various points in the program. Additionally, each week’s program intentionally provides engaging opportunities for children to practice their fine motor skills in developmentally appropriate ways. All program activities support early literacy, school-readiness, and social-emotional skills. Finally, the program design informally offers parents and caregivers information about ways to support their children’s early learning.

What happens in this program: 

Picture Book Playtime includes a storytime segment, followed by an activity station segment. In this program model, the storytime segment is relatively short –  about 15 minutes – and it revolves around just one great picture book. During the presentation of the book, at least one ECRR practice referred to via an “early literacy tip” is delivered by the librarian. For example, the book Press Here would be related to “play”. The facilitator would emphasize to caregivers how this book provides a fun new way to play with their child and tell them that play supports all other learning, including literacy. The short storytime segment includes some full-body activities such as stretches, dances, yoga poses etc. Also, some of the planned program content reflects social and emotional learning. For example, this can be done by pausing to discuss a character’s feelings. 

Following the storytime circle segment the children and caregivers would move on to the activity stations. One station will be thematically linked to the weekly book that was just shared and this activity would change with each different week’s book. The 3 other stations would be repeated each week. I ran my Picture Book Playtime sessions in 5 week sets but other configurations would work too. 

For station activities to work, they need to be set up to accommodate approximately 3 or 4 children at a time so that the entire group can easily rotate around the room during the playtime portion of the program without crowding or rushing. They should be a mix of hands-on activities that offer a variety of ways for children to play, interact, and learn with their caregivers and peers. 

These 3 stations that I set up each week were: 

1. Paper, scissors, glue, stickers,  and markers station: Children can be encouraged to just explore the materials in any way they want. Adults can be encouraged to help their children learn to hold scissors and pens and work with glue sticks to make whatever they want. Think process, not product! 

2.  Blocks station: These can be Duplo, wooden, or cardboard blocks or a combination. Children can be encouraged to work cooperatively if they want, or share the blocks for their own solo play. 

3.  Book station: The book would include copies of the book read at storytime, as well as any related props and puppets. A durable felt story version of the same picture book on a sturdy felt board stand should be placed in this station too. 

The possibilities for the Rotating Activity Station are endless. This station changes each week along with the picture book. It can be a simple, non-messy STEAM activity (i.e., a simple science experiment) that relates to some aspect of the book. It could also be a simple paper-based craft to make and take home. Instructions and extra supplies should be printed out for caregivers to take home too.  The focus for these rotating activity stations would be on low-cost, easy to replicate activities. Here’s what I did, but the possibilities are kind of endless.

a child's hands squishing some green play dough on a red table
Play dough is great for fine motor skill development!
  • Play dough
  • Squishy colors
  • Sensory boxes
  • Make a face 
  • Make a vehicle 

I ran my Picture Book Playtime sessions for about 60 minutes. Scheduled on Saturday afternoons, families came and went as they were able, and I initiated clean-up at about the 50-minute mark. Adults helped with clean-up too and we were sure to give children lots of cues that the program was going to end soon. I used a visual schedule for each stage of the program and this helped keep the kids on track and secure in what was to be expected. The usual handouts with words to songs and book titles should be provided as well as handstamps or stickers. At the end of the whole session, I printed out booklets for the parents that included all the words to the songs, all the book titles, and all the instructions and explanations for every station activity we had done. 

Here’s a sample of the parent resources I made for this program if you want to take a look at what I did. I would love it if you take this program and adapt it to suit your own communities. Let me know how it goes too! 

A brown haired woman is smiling and looking straight ahead
Blogger Tess Prendergast

Tess Prendergast worked as a children’s librarian for 23 years. She has a PhD in early literacy education and now teaches librarianship and children’s literature courses at The School of Information, University of British Columbia, in Vancouver, Canada. She currently facilitates the ALSC Preschool Discussion group and has served on both the Geisel (2023) and Caldecott (2016) committees.

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