Storytime is a core component of any early literacy programme in a public library. It usually consists of stories shared with a group of young children, along with songs and action rhymes and sometimes followed by a craft activity. The session can be multi-age (from birth to 5 years old) or differentiated by developmental stage (baby, toddler and pre-schooler). The latter would be the preferred option, because it allows the storytime to be targeted to the specific needs of the group, which differ greatly in terms of physical, linguistic and social development. However, a multi-age storytime is usually the norm in smaller libraries, where there are fewer staff to conduct sessions and groups tend to be less in size.
Storytime includes singing together as a small group…
A number of early literacy initiatives have partnered with public library services to achieve their aims of improving outcomes for young children. These include First 5 Forever (Australia) and Every Child Ready to Read @ your library (USA). Whilst these include storytime sessions as part of their delivery, they also focus on educating parents and caregivers about their role as their child’s first educator and the impact they can have on their language and literacy development. This includes sharing with them the benefits of reading aloud, singing and talking with their children; something that is obviously modelled by librarians during storytime.
and as a big group!
So what are the benefits of storytime? They include:
– developing language skills, both receptive and expressive
– developing pre-literacy skills, including:
Print motivation – thinking that books and reading are fun
Vocabulary – knowing the names of things
Print awareness – recognizing print and understanding how books work
Letter knowledge – understanding that each letter has its own name and sounds
Narrative skills – being able to tell stories and describe things
Phonological awareness – being able to recognize and play with the smaller sounds that make up words
– encouraging a love of books and reading
– encouraging social skills through sharing the experience of storytime as part of a group
These are also the benefits of reading aloud to children, which is why many early literacy initiatives focus on educating parents and caregivers, encouraging them to keep reading to their children (the issue of not doing so is covered in an interesting article in The Conversation).
Storytime also strengthens the bond between the child and their parent or caregiver as they share the experience and participate together. This is especially true in baby sessions where the emphasis is on face-to-face engagement as songs and rhymes are sung.
Baby storytime often includes sharing books with your little one
There are a number of excellent articles about the role public libraries can play in encouraging the development of early literacy. These include:
– Guidelines for library services to babies and toddlers
– New Zealand’s public libraries and early literacy
– Early literacy framework and strategy for Australian public libraries
– Early literacy programmes in public libraries: best practice
Many library and literacy associations have resources for supporting the development of literacy skills, both at home and in a library setting. The Public Library Association, a division of the American Library Association, has a page of resources entitled Early Literacy, while BookTrust in the UK has information about why reading matters and tips for both families and practitioners.
In short, storytime helps to lay the foundation for the development of the literacy skills that children will need at school and throughout life. Alongside sharing books at home, it sets them on the path to reading. However it is also about forming connections: between the children as a group, between them and the presenter, and between the adults. From these can come friendships and the creation of a community within the library. And what a beautiful thing that is!