Cambridge, Biddeford Bring the Joy of Books to Preschoolers in New England

In a wonderful program this morning on Outreach to Preschoolers, sponsored by NERTCL, Daryl Mark, Cambridge (MA) Public Library, spoke very eloquently about the residents of Cambridge and the needs they have the library can fill, and detailed the components, and success, of their Verizon eLiteracy grant. “Children need stories, and they need the joy of books,” said Mark, and this was the driving force behind a Verizon eLiteracy grant that brought books into preschools. Twice a month. Two staff members have extensive backgrounds in early childhood.

The program model was three books in thirty minutes, plus songs & fingerplays. A free paperback book was given to every child. Books read in storytime were left at the preschool for two weeks (had to make this work with the system). Puppets turned out to be real stars of this project. “I am not a puppet person,” said one librarian, who brought the bunny puppet. The kids sang rock a bye baby to the bunny, and developed a relationship with the bunny, which led to a storytime completed focuses on bunnies.

Librarians were also a resource to teachers, bringing materials for curriculum, and librarians attended a parent program to introduce the library to paarents. As this was a grant funded project, librarians journalled and used surveys to document the program. Scheduling was the biggest problem. Calling a day ahead to make sure it was still ok to come, was ok.

“At the library, I’m in control, but at the preschool you are not the most important thing – flexibility is really important!” said Mark. Whether the preschool teacher sat in on the storytime or not, made a difference. Teachers have a link and authority with the kids, and help with behavior and show support. Plus, librarians were modelling how to share books with the teachers. At one storytime where the kids were restless and Amy Newmark’s advice about a way to give the kids a sense of their own space: Colored dots (Avery labels!) Nametags also help. Asking teachers to help gets them involved and engaged.

Sometimes language was a barrier–31% of Cambridge residents do not have English as a first langauge. Building relationships was key. One result of the grant was teachers brought their kids to the library. Noted a wide dispartiy in reading comprehension of the preschools. Short, exciting, participatory, funny, and/or scary worked well, and stories with emotion (about friendship, about parents) worked really well.

“A lof kids are not getting books and stories the way they need them … and they NEED their stories, by golly!” enthused Vicky Smith, Biddeford (ME) Public Library. Their program grew out of an idea was spurred by a local resident who wanted to volunteer to read to children. When the volunteer petered out, recognized it was am important program to continue, and decided to close the children’s room on Thursday mornings to visit local preschools once a month.

New Century Grants from the State of ME of $10,000 started an outreach program called Bookshare in Biddeford ME. No money was used for staff; Smith pruchased extra picture books, bags to put them in, and a paperback book for every child to take home with a “Please come to the library with your child” letter for their parent. The letter stated that parents would not be held responsible for damaged books, and there was a very positive response to this clause. A library card drive component was unsuccessful, BUT they now see a lot of kids who wouldn’t normally come into the library.

Head Start and Regional Development Centers, as well as family day cares, were the targets for the service. The fantasy of a block of five day care visits from 9:30-12:30 one morning a week was just that – a fantasy! Staffing was also a bit of a challenge. Matching staff to the right venue was key. Getting the preschool teachers to participate was an educational experience, but very few o them go off to do something while we are there. Some of those family providers are so isolated, and being able to spend 5-10 minutes at the end of session, just to talk to the providers, is really really important for THEM.” advises if you decide to start a program of this sort, build time in, because the family providers really need it.

To see if the books were being used, Smith left books behind in the bag, placed very neatly, spine up. Asking the kids what books they liked in the interim helped prompt the providers that rereading is important. Nice messy bags were a good sign.

Curriculum support was an important component, and sometimes a challenge (books on dentistry!). The need for more duplicates was a surprise – 20-30 copies of pumpkin books, snow books, etc. It so simportant to be able to give them what they need at the time they need. Plus, you don’t have to replace them too often.

“We do it BETTER,” emphasized Smith, when talking about WHY this program was so important. She pointed out that many providers have “garbage” books, and we have the “good” books. And “we know how to share stories in ways that children are going to respond with joy and delight.”

Book list of hits:
We’re Going On a Bear Hunt by Michael Rosen
Go Away Big Green Monster by Ed Emberly
Ginger by Charlotte Voake
Bark, George by Jules Feiffer
Where’s My Teddy? by Jez Alborough
The Little Mouse, The Red Ripe Strawberry, and the Big Hungry Bear by Don Wood
Where is the Green Sheep? by Mem Fox
More, More, More said the Baby by Vera Williams
Charlie Parker PLayed BeBop by Chris Raschka
Mole Sisters by Roslyn Schwartz
In the Night Kitchen by Maurice Sendak
Do Like Kyla by Angela Johnson
When Sophie Gets Angry–Really Really Angry by Molly Bang
Snip, Snap, What’s That? by Mara Bergman
Do Pigs Have Stripes?and others by Melanie Walsh
Dear Zoo by Rod Campbell
Goldilocks and the Three Bears
From Head to Toe by Eric Carle
Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus by Mo Willems
Hi, Pizza Man! by Virginia Walters
The Gruffalo by Julia Donaldson

Favorites from Bookshare
Apple Pie that Papa Baked by Laurel Thompson
Growing Vegetable Soup by Lois Ehlert
Planting a Rainbow by Lois Ehlert
Hidden Alphabet by Laura Vaccaro Seeger
Lemons Are not Red by Laura Vaccaro Seeger
Leonardo, the Terrible Monster by Mo Willems
The Handmade Alphabet by Laura Rankin
Froggy Gets Dressed by Jonathan London

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