Four Cs to Literacy

I wrote this little piece on early literacy for our library’s winter flyer, so I thought I’d share it here with all of you, too. Lucky you! These four C’s are fun, easy ways to support young children as they develop vital early literacy skills.

The giraffe has nothing to do with early literacy. She’s just awesome.



Get your little ones excited about reading by letting them help pick out the stories you share together. Talk to a children’s librarian for great book suggestions.


Turn every story into a conversation. Talking with your child about the books you share together builds their vocabulary and helps them learn to interpret text.


Make reading a regular part of your everyday routine whenever you can. Regularly sharing books with your child sends an important message: Reading is worth making time for.


Sharing stories together can be a wonderful bonding opportunity for you and your child, and helps them associate reading with positive memories and emotions.

Atama, kata, hiza, ashi!

Most early literacy specialists recognize the importance of encouraging families to speak, sing and read with their children in the language they’re most comfortable with. I try to reinforce this through the early literacy messages I sprinkle throughout my story times.

One of the best ways to get a message across, though, is to lead by example. I’ve been trying to include more songs in different languages in my story times, and to provide examples of songs that can be adapted to different languages.

My partner came home from Japanese language class humming a very familiar tune – they’d been learning Head and shoulders, knees and toes as part of a lesson on anatomical vocabulary.

What a perfect song to use with different languages! We sang it at my babytime in Japanese and Chinese, and it was a lot of fun for everyone to practice the different vocabulary.

Telling parents to sing with their babies in their native language is fantastic, but providing them with options, examples and suggestions is even more helpful – not everyone necessarily remembers the songs they sung as a child, and sometimes we just get so bored of the same old traditional songs that we’re desperate for something new to try! Sharing is caring!

Parents’ Night Out – Five Little Pumpkins

Last week I hosted a “parents night out” program at the library – an evening of crafts, songs, rhymes and snacks for parents of young children in the community. Because Halloween is just around the corner, we made our own versions of , “5 Little Pumpkins”!

PNO Collage

We provided templates and craft materials, but parents were encouraged to use their imaginations and not feel constrained by the evening’s theme. One mother made five little strawberries with scraps of red felt, another made a cute little pumpkin couple. We had a family of veggies and some colourful ghosts, too!

PicMonkey Collage

I made a little handout with song lyrics, rhymes, and seasonal book suggestions, we sang some songs together and practiced using our new felt stories. We of course also had plenty of cookies to keep our energy levels high!

It was a fun, relaxed evening activity that gave parents a chance to meet other parents in their community, and to ask a librarian questions about early literacy.


Low-key events like this are great community builders, and allow librarians to connect with caregivers in a friendly, natural way. Plus, everybody likes to indulge their inner child and play with craft materials every once in a while! 😉

Welcome to Kindergarten – May 5, 2015

Another day, another school visit! ‘Tis the season, after all.


It was a lovely day for a short walk down to a local school annex. Once again the faithful folding trolley was put to good use, filled with books and pamphlets (and a water bottle – always bring a full water bottle to school visits!!).

School annexes in my city serve grades K-3 (rather than K-7), and are lovely little neighborhood schools.


I was invited to share a mini story time with the incoming kindergarteners and their families, but only had about 15 minutes in which to do so. I was originally scheduled for 20 minutes, but as usual, preschoolers don’t quite grasp the importance of sticking to schedules! 🙂


Given this condensed time frame, it was time to bring out the heavy hitters!

The group had already sat through several speakers by the time I took to the stage, so the kids were getting pretty squirrely. I busted out one of my all-time, never-lets-me-down favourites, Bark, George.

bark george

As usual, it brought the house down. Love, love, love this book!!!! You just can’t go wrong with animal noises. Simple, simple text with a hilarious ending. Love.

I also used “The Elevator Song” and “Here we go a marching”, which is a nice way to introduce a basic ASL sign (for stop). The kids enjoyed the Elevator Song so much that the school’s kindergarten teacher emailed me afterwards to get the words – here are two of my colleagues singing it!

I’m finished with Welcome to Kindergarten visits for this season, so now it’s on to Summer Reading Club promotional visits and summer community events. I’ve been so busy I can hardly keep up with blogging all the events I’ve been lucky enough to be a part of – life is so good!

Welcome to Kindergarten – May 9, 2015

This week I attended a WTK at a local public Montessori elementary. The school had a bit of a unique WTK format in that children and caregivers were separated, with adults gathering in the library to listen to several presentations, and their children being looked after by their future kindergarten teacher in another room.

I set upselkirk1 a small display featuring some of my favourite children’s books, together with some pamphlets and brochures. Then I talked a bit about some ways that caregivers can inspire their children to become passionate life-long readers.

I mentioned the original “three Cs” , Choice, Cuddles, and Conversation, and added my own “C”, Consistency. I urged caregivers to make reading a regular part of their every day routines – reading consistently with children can help make reading feel as natural a part of their routine as brushing their teeth! Reading consistently can also help prevent children from associating reading strictly with school work or assignments, which can unfortunately turn many children away from books entirely.

Modelling is also an important part of raising confident readers – if children see their parents reading, and enjoying reading, it can help them view reading as a positive, valuable activity. Novels, cookbooks, magazines, newspapers, tablets, e-readers – it doesn’t matter what you read, as long as you do it regularly, you enjoy it, and you share that enjoyment with your kids!

Although it was only a brief presentation, it was still a great opportunity to connect with local teachers and teacher-librarians and meet parents in the community!

Ready, Set, Learn! – April 9, 2015

On Thursday I attended my first Ready Set Learn (RSL) event at a local elementary school. The school is only a few blocks from our branch, so I was able to enjoy the glorious spring weather on a short afternoon walk. Just look at that sky!

rsl5To quote the Vancouver School Board,

Ready, Set, Learn Programs take place in every elementary school in Vancouver and are open to families and caregivers with children who are 3 and 4 year olds. The purpose of the program is to give children and their families/caregivers resources and access to resources that will enable children to have rich learning experiences prior to entering formal schooling.

I was invited to attend the RSL as a community partner, and make a brief presentation about the importance of reading with young children, as well as promote some of the events and resources available at the library.

rsl1The event was held in the school’s gymnasium, and featured several community partners and speakers, including a community health nurse, a settlement worker, a support worker, and several translators. A number of stations were set up around the gym for children to play with while their parents listened to the speakers. My favourite station, of course, was the reading corner.

rsl4The kindergarten teacher had prepared a poster for me, and I created a little display with my library handouts. Standing beside it made me feel a little bit like a student at a science fair, waiting for the teacher to come and examine my project.

rsl2The event was only about an hour long, but the schedule was full, with a number of topics being covered, mostly by the kindergarten teacher. The topics were each designed to help parents and caregivers prepare their children for success in kindergarten. My spiel was topic 2: books!

rsl3I only had a few minutes to talk, so I decided to focus on the “3 C’s”, which were first developed by VPL librarian Gail Thomson.

  • Choice – Reading shouldn’t feel like a chore. Encourage your children to explore their interests and get them involved in picking which books to read together.
  • Cuddles – Reading together is a wonderful bonding experience, and gives you as a caregiver the opportunity to support your child’s literacy development. Make reading a fun and rewarding experience, and help your child associate reading with positive emotions and memories.
  • Conversation – Reading shouldn’t be a one-way experience. As you read with your child, stop and ask questions, and encourage them to do the same. For example: What do you think is going to happen next? How do you think she feels right now? Why do you think he said that? Do you agree with their decision? Encourage your child to interact with the text, explore what they are reading and express their thoughts, emotions and opinions.

I also touched on the importance of reading to a child in whatever language the caregiver is most comfortable with. Children benefit most from reading with a confident, enthusiastic adult, in any language. The library has children’s books in many different languages, as well as bilingual books, to support families.

rsl6There was time after the presentations for questions and chatting, and I was able to connect with a number of local families and introduce our story times and kids programs. Our multilingual children’s books don’t circulate as well as our English collection, particularly our Vietnamese collection, despite our large Vietnamese community. Being able to connect with individual parents in the community allowed me to promote the collections, while getting a better understanding of why parents might not be utilizing the resources.

Community outreach is my passion, and I believe it is vital that children’s librarian be active, engaged members of the community. By attending this event I was able to connect with families who for various reasons might never visit a library, and help support them and their children in a positive environment. I’m looking forward to my next outing!

“Welcome to Kindergarten” – Some take-aways

Last week I attended a training workshop for teachers new to the “Welcome to Kindergarten” (WTK) program. WTK is an orientation for families with children who are about to start kindergarten.  In the words of the non-profit organization The Learning Partnership,

Our Welcome to Kindergarten™ program helps prepare pre-kindergarten children for a positive start to their school journey. Parents/caregivers and their children attend orientation sessions at their neighbourhood school where they receive early learning and literacy resources, and learn how to use them at home. The orientation helps create the foundation for positive relationships between parents, teachers and community agencies that sets the stage for a smooth transition to school and future success.

The Welcome to Kindergarten program is a unique parent engagement strategy that brings together parents, children, schools and community service agencies to achieve the goal of giving parents/caregivers the strategies, resources and all the support necessary to make early learning activity and play a priority in the home – to prepare the child for a fun and successful first year in school.

I will be participating in several WTKs this spring, and was very curious to learn more about this exciting program. Here are a few interesting nuggets that I took away from the workshop (along with some largely unrelated and potentially confusing photographs for visual appeal):


  • 1 in 4 Canadian children start kindergarten without being fully prepared, which puts them at risk of not getting the most out of their school experience.


  • Parents and caregivers are a child’s first and most important teachers. As educators and literacy specialists, our role is to support caregivers and provide them with the tools and resources they need to succeed.


  • Play! Children learn best through play, both structured and unstructured. Unfortunately, play can be seen as frivolous or unimportant, when it is actually one of the most important parts of a child’s development.


  • Supporting early literacy doesn’t have to be complicated, or expensive. Playdough can easily be made from common household ingredients, picture books can be borrowed for free from the library, and scrap paper and crayons can help build the finger control and coordinatoin needed for writing.


  • The world is a classroom! Cooking dinner can be an opportunity to explore math through measurement, while a walk through the park can introduce nature, the seasons and more. Every moment can be a teachable moment!

I left the workshop feeling super inspired, energized and ready to go! Early literacy is my passion, and I’m so thankful that I get the opportunity to work in this exciting, rewarding and meaningful field!

I like to move it move it – or – physical literacy in storytimes

The expression most commonly used to describe my story time style is “high energy”. Children attending my programs spend most of our thirty minutes together in motion – singing, clapping their hands, tapping their toes, dancing, jumping, marching and moving their bodies. As anyone who has worked with children knows, they are designed to move!

It seems that I’m not the only one who believes in the importance of movement in early literacy. The “Welcome to Kindergarten” program has introduced a new station that emphasizes what they call “physical literacy”. The station uses a simple ball to show parents how easily movement can be introduced into their child’s play to help build and strengthen a number of different skills and abilities.


As librarians, teachers and early childhood educators know, movement supports the development of muscle strength and control, hand-eye coordination, balance, and fine motor skills. Physical games and activities can help children learn to share and take turns, and engage in cooperative play. Beyond the physical benefits of movement, children who engage in active learning have opportunities to practice following directions, build listening skills, develop vocabulary, enhance alphabet and number awareness and strengthen pattern recognition – all while having fun!


I like to incorporate physical literacy into every story time, but particularly when working with active, energetic toddlers and preschoolers. Rather than attempting to force children to sit still for long periods of time, which works against their natural inclination towards movement, I believe in channeling that energy into positive, educational activities that encourage active learning. Here are just a few examples of ways in which physical literacy can become a part of your story times:

“Tick tock tick tock”

This fun little ditty, which can also be used as a baby lap bounce, gets kids singing and jumping while practicing their counting skills.

“Here we go a-marching”

I couldn’t find a recording of this song, but the lyrics are pretty simple, and you can sing them to any tune you like! Here are just a few of the variations I typically do with my group.

Here we go a marching, marching, marching!

Here we go a marching, and then we stop!

Here we go a jumping, jumping, jumping!

Here we go a jumping, and then we stop!

Here we go a driving, driving, driving, driving!

Here we go a driving, and then we stop!

Here we go a flying, flying, flying!

Here we go a flying, and then we stop!

Here we go a swimming, swimming, swimming!

Here we go a swimming, and then we stop!

Children practice following directions in this fun, energetic song, stopping whatever action they’re doing when the leader says “stop!” I like to incorporate the ASL sign for “stop” into the song, and add as many verses as I feel fits the day’s energy levels!

“Roly poly”

This story time classic uses movement to reinforce vocabulary, helping children visualize opposites such as out and in, and up and down.

“The Elevator Song”

One of my absolute favourites, and a must for any story time I do! Energetic fun for all ages that gets kids jumping up and down, following directions and reinforcing opposites. Songs with actions help children learn to follow directions. It’s also just about the most fun you can have in a story time. If you haven’t take the elevator up and down with your story time crew yet, you don’t know what you’re missing!

“If You’re Happy and You Know It”

Another classic song that’s perfect for helping children practice following directions, as well as providing opportunities for vocabulary development. I like to include a wide range of different body parts when singing this song – children pat their heads, stick out their tongues, touch their toes, wiggle their ears, blink their eyes, tickle their elbows, and more! It’s also an ideal transition song – I can use it to get children to sit back down, line up, grab their backpacks, or do whatever else I need them to do – following directions is so much more fun when the directions are sung!

I really believe in actve, engaging story times that recognize the many different ways in which children learn. I also believe that story times should be fun – for children and librarians! What are some of your favourite ways to get kids moving and learning in story times?