Early Literacy Messages In Action!

[Graphic by Kelly of Ms. Kelly at the Library!]

Nearly a month ago, Lindsey from Jbrary tweeted this out:


And I knew immediately that I was *IN* for this project.


You’re avoiding using early literacy tips in storytime. You’re thinking that parents have got enough to do without adding another thing to their plate. You’re thinking that parents will feel attacked and be frustrated with you. And you might be thinking, “Who am I — a woman without children — to try and explain anything to caregivers about the children that they know best?”

And by “you” in that story, I’m actually talking about me.

Yep. It took me a long time to get comfortable with early literacy tips and using them. But I believe in them SO MUCH that I regularly include four to five tips in each week’s storytime. And yes, you heard that number right. Let me take the time to break down those concerns up above.


toddlerhandouts1. Parents have enough to do with adding another thing to their plate.

Yes, that’s true. But many parents are showing up in storytime FOR that extra guidance. So here’s how you can present it without making anyone feel like it’s an assignment: put it in that handout. Every week, I write up some of the early literacy tips from The Early Literacy Kit and tie it into Every Child Ready to Read 2. I often change up the activity to match the theme of the week. On the reverse side is an activity page for the child. (On the inside is a booklist and some fingerplays/songs that we sang that week. You can see the front and inside on this ALSC blog post.)

And now they’re there. The parents that are interested in going further can and other parents don’t have to feel guilty.

2. Parents will feel attacked and be frustrated with you.

Here’s where reading from a card will get you in trouble. I use scripted early literacy tips as a jumping off point. I will write out the whole tip on my storytime plan, but what comes out of my mouth is a completely different story.

For example, in for my Family Storytime about cake, I wrote out: “Children can help you measuring things in all kinds of ways — in deciding whether something will fit in a certain space, in cooking, and in making things. Understanding the concept of measuring begins to develop one of the mathematical skills children will need in school.” What actually came out of my mouth? “The next time you’re baking at home, ask your child if they’d like to help ‘The Little Red Hen’ out. Measuring is a great math skill!”

See the difference? The first one sounds preachy and know-it-all if I were to say it out loud. (I don’t think it sounds that way written out though.) The second way is much more conversational and it ties into the book I had just finished reading, creating a pretty flawless transition.

3. Who am I to explain anything to caregivers about *their* children?

First of all, you’re an educated early literacy specialist, that’s who! Everything that I do at storytime has a benefit or a reason behind it. The easiest way to share early literacy tips is to explain WHY you’re doing the activity in storytime.

When I passed out foam hearts to the kids to dance with during Hugs and Kisses storytime, I also encouraged the kids to give them to the caregivers and the other kids. Why did I do this seemingly silly activity? “Today, we’re practicing sharing since our toddlers will be school-age soon and in need of this skill!”

When my toddlers got too fussy, I kept it real at Cars storytime. I told the parents it was okay to put down a book if their child was becoming too frustrated. And then I did it! “Our group seems ready to get up and move, am I right? Let’s put this book away — and feel free to do this at home, too! Let’s make reading fun.”

When some parents expressed a frustration with reading the same old book every night, I introduced a new way to sing a familiar book (Brown Bear sung to Twinkle Twinkle) in babytime. “This is a great way to re-visit an old favorite in a new way!”


It takes time for these to flow out naturally and organically. And if it doesn’t for you — write them out in conversation style beforehand. Practice in your mirror. Use your family. If you have pets, dogs make great test subjects for storytime prep! (If my dog-nephew Winston tries to kiss me while I sing, I know it’s a hit.)

I actually started using tips with my Song Cube. I memorized tips to tell parents depending on what song comes up. And even after several sessions, I still have to model how to sing the ABCs to Mary Had a Little Lamb every time!


So, how do parents receive the tips and do they provide feedback? Here’s some quotes from our Winter 2015 storytimes. (Spring 2015 isn’t yet typed up; summer reading is coming!!)

I liked how the program included the parents or the caregiver.

I love the research and explanations that Ms. Katie provides.

[Co-worker] did a great job in teaching the parents different methods of interaction with books & our children.

Katie does a terrific job explaining the “why” behind activities.


And that’s why I think early literacy messages are so important. If you’d like to talk more about them, please leave a comment or hit me up on Twitter: @storytimekatie.

And make sure to check out Jbrary‘s round-up of all the posts this Friday!

6 comments on “Early Literacy Messages In Action!

  1. Joie
    June 19, 2015 at 8:46 am #

    Thank you for this!!! “Who am I — a woman without children — to try and explain anything to caregivers about the children that they know best?” This is how I feel ALL THE TIME (I’m only 24 years old with ZERO preschool/toddler experience. I’ve never even HELD a baby!) This post makes me feel 100% better about my storytimes and gives me an extra boost of confidence when dealing with the parents. 🙂 I’m new to storytimes for the younger crowd and I always feel like I don’t know what I’m doing. Thank you for your tips!

    • Katie
      September 15, 2015 at 4:55 pm #

      I’m so glad to hear that this helped. I was absolutely in your boat; you do get that storytime experience and it gets easier the more you do it.

  2. Kelly T (@honestlyalice)
    June 22, 2015 at 1:13 pm #

    You sang Brown Bear to the tune of Twinkle Twinkle?!?! That is brilliant! Thank you so much for all your insight; you’ve made such fantastic points about keeping things fresh and conversational. Such great ideas!

    • Katie
      September 15, 2015 at 4:56 pm #

      I owe that tip to Melissa (@MelissaZD)! It’s *brilliant*.

  3. Bobbie
    September 3, 2015 at 1:41 pm #

    I rely heavily on this page. Thank you for all that you do. Two things, #1Do you have a policy for disruptive children/families during story hour? If so, how do you handle it?

    • Katie
      September 15, 2015 at 4:57 pm #

      I actually lay out the rules prior to storytime beginning. It helps set the expectations for parents. If there is a disruption during storytime, I make eye contact with the parent/child or address it right there. If the behavior continues, I talk to the parent after storytime ends.

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