As a new mom, I was thinking about how youth services librarians, early childhood development professionals, and storytime providers go about incorporating their knowledge into parenting. Sometimes, parents at storytime may feel overwhelmed by trying to utilize all these skills at home, especially when it comes to minimizing screen time and maximizing real world interaction. There are so many messages about screen time and kids, and so few real world strategies for what to actually DO that works as well for quieting a 2 year old having a meltdown in Target as well as giving her an iPad. So, I thought I’d ask some experts who I know are working hard at parenting with early childhood best practices in mind to share the nitty gritty of how they do it.
Our second post of the series is by Gwen Vanderhage. Gwen is a kids & teens collection development librarian for Brodart. She sadly hasn’t done storytime in public in a couple of years but is still on message for Early Literacy at every opportunity. She has a toddler son at home, where they read books, play with egg shakers, and have silly dance contests. Here are her words:
I won’t lie, the thing that makes me a super stealthy Storytime Ninja is that I use this stuff at home. I am a full-time toddler mom and part-time librarian. The Joint Chiefs were all, “Who might have pro-tips we can share with our storytime parents? Ninja moms!” It’s amazing how practicing what you preach makes your preaching feel so much more meaningful and compelling.
It’s particularly timely that we talk about this right now, just after the Babies Need Words Everyday roll-out, because the easiest thing I share with parents is TALKING to your baby. All of the things we’ve practiced saying in our parent speeches are true:
- It feels funny to narrate your day to an infant, but it gets easier
- Talk about your errands and point out interesting things
- Name everything, all the time
- Singing is kinda the same as talking, so if you’re more comfortable, start with that
- Talk WITH your kids, not just at them (make eye contact with your baby, let her coo back)
Real life example 1: One of the easiest ways to start talking about the world with your baby, is to begin in the produce section of your grocery store. No one will frown at you – they will smile. Let your baby feel the broccoli, rub a peach on his cheek, sniff the cilantro. Shoppers are supposed to wash this stuff at home, so don’t hesitate! You can talk about the produce long before your baby is big enough to eat it and also talk about it when you prepare it. Talk about it when your baby starts squelching and eating solids. Talk about it when he’s big enough to stand next to you on a stool and let him stir, or (gasp) use a child-friendly knife to “dice” a banana. You can talk about the 5 senses. You can use big vocabulary like “tangerine.” You can introduce colors. You can count apples. You can start talking about how plants grow… there’s a natural progression and you just keep talking. Hey look, PBS has parent tips for the grocery store too!
Real life example 2: Let’s talk about our feelings. Babies are really engaged with books that show other babies’ faces, particularly those baby faces that are expressing emotions, like Margaret Miller’s original Baby Faces book. With wordless books, it doesn’t feel natural to just hold a book up and turn the pages; of course you’re going to talk about what you see! Talk about how that baby feels. Why does she feel that way? What happened? “That baby is sad. I wonder why? Maybe she dropped her binky. What makes you sad?” “Mmm, that baby is eating. What foods do you like to eat?” Reading a book this way trains us and our children to have a conversation, as well as learning words and concepts. It also helps your baby begin to learn empathy. You want to set the stage to continue having conversations about feelings with your child for a lifetime, right?
I know you have other great examples you give parents for talking and how it can set the stage for literacy. Please share them!