Six is good: part I

Do you remember the Seinfeld episode where Jerry is dating a deaf woman who reads lips?  They're trying to set a time for their next date, and Jerry says "how about six?  Six is good." She misreads him slightly, thinks he's saying "sex," and slaps him.  My husband and I still chuckle over the scene, almost 20 years later.

In library land, we talk about six early literacy skills that children need before they start learning to read. When children have these skills before they start their formal education, it is much easier for them to focus on learning to read, and they are poised for success in school. They need print motivation (love of books), letter knowledge (names and sounds of the letters), phonological awareness (rhyming and sounds of language), vocabulary (knowing what words mean), narrative skills (ability to tell a story), and print awareness (knowing that in English we read from left to right, and that the print on the page is what we're reading). I rarely remember the names of all six.

For the last 10 years, we've been using this language in our storytimes, play areas and spaces, websites and brochures, and workshops.  The language is based on a successful parent education initiative developed by the Public Library Association and the Association for Library Service to Children called Every Child Ready to Read @ your library.  We have friendly, easy ways to talk about these skills, and suggest plenty of fun activities and ways to share picture books to help parents develop these skills in their children.  But, in general, we've always led with the skills.

Now, PLA and ALSC have released a much-anticipated second version of Every Child Ready to Read that leads with practices –what parents and caregivers can actually do every day– that help children get ready to learn to read.

Talk. Sing. Read. Write. Play.  Conversation –that interaction between parent and child– is key to helping children grow healthy brains and develop their language skills.  That also helps develop vocabulary and narrative skills.  Singing naturally slows down the language, which helps children hear the language (phonological sensitivity), remember a storyline (narrative skills).  Reading and writing go hand-in-hand, and both are ways to communicate ideas.  (Plus, being able to write your name when you go to Kindergarten?  Sweet.) Playing, when it's fun, safe, and interactive, is how children learn about the world around them, and their imaginations, best.  What children discover in books can inspire their imaginative play, and help develop their storytelling skills. 

Now I'm trying to figure out what this means for storytimes.  Do I simply change the messages I communicate to adults, or do I start sharing books, music, fingerplays, flannelboards, etc., differently?  I've already been incorporating these practices into my storytimes (without naming them so succinctly to parents and caregivers), but how could I be more intentional?  How can my library system be more intentional?

It's important to know the skills and be familiar with the signs that children are developing these skills, but for now, I know that Six is Good, but Five is better.

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