Emergent literacy: Program review

35811680 - little boy studying the scriptures.

Retrieved September 1, 2017, from https://goo.gl/images/NvSRqv

“The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.” 

I can read with my eyes shut! – Dr Seuss

This rhyme by Dr Seuss encapsulates a truth that should be self-evident: children who learn about the world of books and reading early, have better opportunities than those who don’t. The importance of exposure to pre literacy practice for children is becoming increasingly clear.

For my blog this week I reviewed one of the pre literacy children’s programs offered by the Brisbane City Council libraries: First Five Forever.

The program is funded by the State Library of Queensland. The librarian tells me that this was an initiative from SLQ when it was revealed a few years ago that Queensland was running behind the rest of Australia in literacy rates. Library staff from BCC undergo a two-day training course at SLQ to learn how to facilitate the program. First Five Forever sessions go for half an hour and it is offered in the morning on different days of the week, depending on the library. It is specifically designed for toddlers aged 1 to 2 years but children up to 5 are welcome. I am attending the 9.30 am session on a Saturday morning at Annerley Library.

I’m pleasantly surprised when I learn that it is parents and not their children who are the main intended target of this program. On the face of it this is a storytelling activity for toddlers. However, when I spoke to the librarian she explained to me that what they try to accomplish is to show the parents a variety of simple activities and ideas at home to encourage emergent literacy. Some of the ideas and activities include:

  • Having books available for the child to explore
  • Making lists or timetables
  • Pointing out signs and words
  • Helping children understand a story
  • Explaining tricky words
  • Pointing to words as you read them
  • Clapping out syllables in words

I happen to choose a quiet day. Today it is just a Mum and her 2 year old with the librarian running the program. For the benefit of the exercise I will name the little girl Anna. The session commences with a sing along and Anna is gently encouraged by her Mum and the librarian to do actions that are mentioned in the song (in this case, open and close her hands) and to try and sing words she might recognize. Next there is another song, and this time the librarian specifically asks Anna questions: What sound does a lion make? (roar) What sound do wiper blades make? (swish). Anna has been to these sessions before and clearly is recognizing many of the cues, as well as making a clear connection between words and actions and identifying things (where is your nose, where are your eyes?-what’s this…? Where is the beak of a bird?)

The librarian doing the session is well-versed in the running of it. There is a natural flow as the activities get more complex for Anna. This is not a passive performance where toddlers (or parents) sit and watch. Anna, as well as her mother, are full participants. Anna is constantly asked questions, finishing sentences in a song, connecting words to actions and sounds to words.

The structure is not rigid. It is flexible, going along with the toddler. Anna is allowed to wander but her attention is always captured back, whether with a song, clapping, puppets or colorful scarfs.  Towards the end, Anna’s attention begins to wander and clearly the librarian knows and expects this, introducing a final ‘fun’ activity using bubbles. Even during this activity she is asked questions and encouraged to do actions.

As the session ends, the librarian has a chat with Anna’s Mum in regards to Anna’s capacity to ask questions and recognize words.

This is a well-run program. I am impressed by the amount of interaction required from the toddler, who never gets to sit passively and simply observe. At the same time, the atmosphere is fun and gentle, encouraging the parent to be constantly involved in every single activity. A lot of thought and research has been put into these sessions and this is corroborated by the readings we had this week on children’s preliteracy as well as the articles and report I have provided. A great initiative and in my opinion a fantastic program. Professionally delivered, and relevant to the research on the topic of emergent literacy.