Want to Take a Powerful Approach to Storytime?

Mom and toddler, reading.Sue McCleaf Nespeca has more than 30 years of experience in youth services library work. She currently heads Kid Lit Plus Consulting and is an adjunct instructor at Kent State University’s School of Library and Information Science. Here she shares her experience as one of the creators of The Very Ready Reading Program.

What was the impetus for creating The Very Ready Reading Program?

Two divisions of the American Library Association, the Public Library Association and the Association of Library Service to Children, had launched a project called Every Child Ready to Read (ECRR). That project [the first edition] was set up to be an outreach project, where librarians were going out to reach people not already coming to the library. And they did that through collaboration with preschools, early childhood organizations, etc. Librarians were trained to conduct workshops on early literacy skills for parents and early childhood educators.

I was one of six or seven national trainers for the project. As I was doing the trainings, I kept hearing from different people that they wanted to be able to incorporate ECRR into storytimes. That was not the goal of the first edition of ECRR, but it became apparent that people were craving knowledge on how to incorporate early literacy tips in their storytime programs. They were excited. They were turned on by the ECRR project that ALA was doing. But they were also looking for ways to reach those parents already coming to the library for storytime programs.

That’s what The Very Ready Reading Program does. It takes early literacy skills and incorporates them within the storytime programs. When the parents are attending the programs with the children, they’re hearing some of this early literacy information, and they’re seeing librarians model how to share books by being enthusiastic and using voices and expression. They’re hearing songs and rhymes that they might not remember from childhood, with the librarian modeling how to get the children with motions and movement.

I see ALA’s Every Child Ready to Read project and Demco’s The Very Ready Reading Program as complementary. And I think that’s an important thing: that they are complementary. One is not replacing the other.

How did you create The Very Ready Reading Program?

I did extensive research. I already was aware of the research connected to the ECRR program. I looked at research from other organizations (e.g., Zero to Three, National Association for the Education of Young Children, International Reading Association, Reading Rockets, etc.) There was a wealth of current research. A lot of that research is summarized in the introductory materials in The Very Ready Reading Program and in handouts for caregivers.

I also spoke to Demco about bringing Dr. Pam Schiller on board as another author and editor on the project. Pam has a doctorate in early childhood education and has published dozens of books and CDs. The addition was advantageous for many reasons, including making sure everything we have in the program is developmentally appropriate and based on the most current research.

Finally, the curriculum is meant to be flexible — librarians can pick and choose what is useful to them. We designed each storytime so that it could be presented in many different ways, using different book titles and different activities. And the storytimes in the program are simply examples, which I think are useful for librarians new to the profession, for experienced librarians short on time, or for early childhood educators who might not have extensive early literacy training.

What are the  7 Days • 7 Ways?

The 7 Days, 7 Ways are seven different things you can do with your child every day to help them with early literacy. For babies, it’s sharing books, sounds, words, rhymes, songs, stories, and playtime. For ages 2+, the focus is no longer on sounds, and writing is incorporated.

It seems like parent involvement is a key aspect of The Very Ready Reading Program. Could you talk about the importance of involving the parents?

When I was getting my early childhood degree [in the early 1990s], we didn’t use the term “early literacy.” We called it “emergent literacy,” which made it sound as if all these skills would just emerge in every child naturally. But that is not the case. Unless children have help and guidance from the parents, there’s no way that these early literacy skills are just going to happen on their own. So parent or caregiver involvement is vital.

The parent is the key component in storytime. I would tell people that when I lectured about early literacy, and sometimes it was upsetting to them. They felt like storytime should be solely a fun experience for the child. And I agree that it should be fun and entertaining. But the parents need to be in the room. And we need to be modeling to them. The storytime experience on its own might be positive for social interaction, in other words, for the child to build social skills. But it is not going to help that child with early literacy unless those experiences continue at home on a regular basis. If children are exposed to these early literacy experiences regularly, when they arrive at school, their success with learning to read is greatly improved.

So what we do in the VRRP storytime is model how to share books. We show the parents which books are good to read with their kids, how to add expression and read enthusiastically, and ways to get the child involved with the story with verbal participation, movement, etc. We share rhymes and songs, again getting the children involved through motions and movement. By providing parents and caregivers with a take-home handout, we hope that those interactions are going to keep occurring daily. That adult involvement, whether it be a parent or another relative or an early childhood educator, is crucial for the child, because early literacy skills are not going to emerge on their own.

Learn more about The Very Ready Reading Program and view sample storytimes and tip sheets. You also may be interested in the “Enriching Early Literacy Storytimes” webinar and “The Very Ready Reading Program” webinar with Sue McCleaf Nespeca and Dr. Pam Schiller.


Sue McCleaf Nespeca

Sue McCleaf Nespeca

Sue McCleaf Nespeca has over 30 years of library experience in children's services. She has a Master's Degree in Education in Early Childhood and a Master's in Library Science. Currently, she runs her own consulting business and has spoken at over 400 workshops nationwide on subjects related to early literacy and children's literature.
Lisa Bintrim

Lisa Bintrim

Lisa Bintrim, Ph.D., is the former editor of LibrarySparks magazine, UpstartBooks and The Very Ready Reading Program. In this role, she focused on identifying and sharing innovative, engaging programs and resources for school and public libraries.