Published on: Tuesday, November 1, 2016 Takoma Park Newsletter

Pathways to literacy

By Karen MacPherson

Creating pathways to literacy – for various ages and stages – infuses all Library programs. Our efforts start with the youngest children – and their families and caregivers – because research shows that the earlier children are introduced to literacy concepts, the better their chances are for school success. As recent research has shown, by the time children from low-income families reach the age of four, they will have heard 30 million fewer words than their more advantaged peers. Clearly, these children will start school at a huge disadvantage unless there is some intervention.

That’s where our Library programs for young children and their parents and caregivers can play a key role in the community. All of our early literacy programs are free, of course, and they are built on research disseminated by the American Library Association showing best practices for getting children ready to read.

A key part of these programs is modeling these best practices for parents and caregivers, so they can bring those practices back into the home. Our Library programs range from the hugely popular Circle Times on Tuesdays and Spanish Circle Times on Thursdays (both now offered twice weekly) to our Wednesday morning early literacy programs offering age-targeted activities for babies, toddlers and preschoolers. We also offer a monthly Petites Chansons (French Circle Time) and are working to create a second monthly French program for preschoolers; our current program is popular with both native French-speakers, many from African Francophone countries, as well as parents who are hoping to start their children on French as a second language.

One Monday evening each month, we provide a fun family literacy activity in our Caldecott Club, where we read and discuss some of the best new picture books, using the criteria of the prestigious Caldecott Medal. Besides giving families a chance to read some new books together, the Caldecott Club helps develop visual literacy, an increasingly important kind of literacy in our screen-filled world.

Our monthly Comics Jam offers another opportunity to develop visual literacy for both kids and adults. Comics Jam allows us to showcase our greatly in-demand collection of kids’ and teen graphic novels, which are popular with both reluctant and eager readers. In fact, we see our graphic novel collection as one way to convince kids, especially reluctant readers, to trade their digital screens for illustrated books that actually require a different kind of brainpower to read the information in both pictures and words to make sense of a story.

Our monthly LEGO Club highlights STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math) skills in a fun way. Kids can build around a particular theme or just enjoy the pleasure of using their math, science or math skills to create with LEGO, inspired by the numerous LEGO idea books that are part of the library’s collection.

In addition, we have strong literacy-focused partnerships with the neighboring schools. For example, for nearly a decade, the 4th grade classes at Piney Branch Elementary School have visited the Library each week for a program focused on their language arts curriculum (i.e. historical fiction, mythology, etc.).

We also regularly host programs for other grades at both Piney Branch and Takoma Park Elementary School and have offered programs for English as a Second Language students at Takoma Park Middle School. We’re currently part of a Takoma Foundation grant (in its second year) as a partner with Takoma Park Elementary School in its Books & Breakfast program. This program is focused on literacy activities – including an introduction to the library and its resources – for ESL students and their families.

The library also hosts regular programs for local preschools, providing literacy based story times and related activities. These programs are aimed both at preschoolers and their teachers, as we model best practices for reading aloud to young children and other ways to make books and reading come alive.

For older students, we offer a book reviewing student service learning opportunity. As part of this opportunity, students learn to write book reviews, which eventually are published on the library’s website.

One of the best – and most exciting— ways of promoting literacy is meeting a published author or illustrator. With our partnership with Politics & Prose Bookstore, our patrons can meet some of the most talented and dynamic authors and illustrators working today in creating books for kids and teens. If you’ve never been to one of our author programs, give it a try. We have found that these programs are both fun and inspirational for readers, young and old.

This article appeared in the November 2016 edition of the Takoma Park Newsletter. The Takoma Park Newsletter is available for download here.