The New Storytime for Kids: Putting Research into Action
In 2012, Forbes magazine named Longview, WA, one of America’s prettiest cities, noting that “not even the port industry … can block the scenery of one of the Pacific Northwest’s most charming towns.” The picture for literacy in Longview, however, isn’t so pretty. Longview has one of the lowest literacy rates in the state, as well as low graduation and high unemployment rates. The town also has a growing number of households in which English is not the first language.
As the youth services librarian for Longview Public Library, a stand-alone municipal library that not only serves a local population of about 15,000, but also acts as a resource for Cowlitz County and adjacent counties, Jan Hanson faced an acute need for family literacy services But she wasn’t sure how she could expand services with a small staff. She had plenty of volunteers who were willing to do storytimes: “Everyone wants to read to children. They think it will be easy.” Jan, however, knew that storytime for kids required more skills than being a competent storyteller. Moreover, after going through training for Every Child Ready to Read (ECRR), she wanted to incorporate best practices for early literacy development into the storytimes at her library.
Last fall, Jan decided to try The Very Ready Reading Program (VRRP). She was first drawn to the program by her love of children’s literature: “I love Eric Carle [whose artwork is featured in the program]. And the book lists had all of my favorite books.” She also noted that VRRP was research based and incorporated the same early learning elements as ECRR. But perhaps the most important aspect for Jan was that VRRP was “an entire, cohesive, attractive package” that she could use to easily train volunteers.
Longview’s first VRRP storytime was for four-to-six-year olds and limited to 10 children. “We just put a toe in the water with an afternoon Very Ready Reading Program. We were cautious because we wanted to make the experience successful for the volunteers,” Jan says.
The first program was a success, so Jan expanded the program in the spring, adding VRRP storytimes for babies and toddlers, as well as additional storytimes for the four-to-six-year olds. She also increased the group sizes to 15 children.
Jan reports that the response to the VRRP storytimes has been overwhelmingly positive. Initially, she notes, “We found that parents didn’t quite get it. They thought storytime was a chance to drop kids off and go, when it’s really about learning with your child.” Now, however, she says that the parents have been impressed with the program, particularly the handouts that they get at the end of each storytime to extend the learning at home.
The volunteers have also embraced the program. So far, Jan has trained two dozen volunteers on using the VRRP storytimes, and after implementing the program in the spring, all of the volunteers re-upped their commitment to the library.
As she’s implemented VRRP storytimes, Jan has found that not only does the program provide a “package deal,” but it also can be very flexible. “We don’t always do exactly what [the program] says,” Jan notes. “We’ve personalized it to our resources.” In particular, she and the volunteers substitute their own favorite songs in the storytimes. Jan, however, also appreciates the ease of having ready-to-use storytimes: “We don’t have to find time every week to come up with fingerplays.”
Jan plans to grow the VRRP storytimes in the fall through additional advertising and a partnership with the local community college: “With this program, I have confidence that this is a great thing for caregivers to bring their children to.”