By Rachel Talpers
As research on early learning is ever-expanding, parents, teachers and librarians are more and more aware that early literacy is a key factors in helping kids reach their full potential. Many low-income parents, however, struggle to take them to a bookstore or library, provide books, or even find time just to read to their kids. Time and money can be significant factors in how much reading a child can do in their early lives, which is why the SPELL Symposium, which took place on September 8, 2016, is such an important and interesting look into why parents don’t utilize a mostly free service like the library, and the myriad of practical projects that can help these parents and kids have access to library resources.
The Spell Symposium featured eight public libraries throughout Colorado, which vary from rural to metropolitan, and how they used a portion of grant money to reach low-income parents and children who, for whatever reason, do not already go to the library, attend library events, or don’t even know what the library offers. Parents who are not utilizing this great, free service, especially for their children, are not helping the youngest kids develop important early literacy skills. Exposure to words and parents modeling reading can be significant markers of how well these children will do in reading and other things their first year of school, which in turn, is a marker of graduation rates and successes in later life. These parents have a lot on their plate -- multiple jobs, multiple children. They don’t always have reliable transportation, and the library might not be open when they are available. Fines and fees can also be a barrier to accessing books and other resources (for more information on fines and fees, and why they might not be necessary in libraries, view the project's white paper on the topic). For this grant, then, libraries were required to partner with a local organization already in contact with a low-income or at-risk population, in an effort to meet parents and their little ones where they are.
What I found so fascinating from the research and partnerships is that, with the same generic grant stipulations, each library did unique programs, ones built to fit their community and their patrons. Some libraries created early literacy kits that could be checked out or distributed through preschools; others, like Cortez Public Library, used fun materials for families as a motivation for reading and coming to the library, to great effect. Still others, like Denver Public Library, found that they could provide valuable resources to their partnering organization, but left home visits and material distribution to the partner. I think there is a lot of inspiring work that was done throughout Colorado, and I could see many of the projects transferring easily to other branches.
One I found particularly inspiring was the work done by the Garfield County Public Library, Parachute Branch. They partnered with Raising a Reader, a program already used by school-age children and familiar to parents, to create “Lit Launch” kits that parents could check out. They are themed bags, some Spanish, containing books, music, and manipulatives to get the family started. They even had the bags handmade by a local company! I think this is an easily transferrable model that could work in a myriad of places, but works especially well in this community. Find more examples of what each library did on this website.
Although most of the programs are success stories, a few hit snags. One of the hardest things to see is some of the libraries not being able to continue these programs after the grant money is used up. Due to budget cuts, loss of staff, and general lack of funding, a few libraries were forced to stop these early literacy activities, or can no longer pay for upkeep of kits and such paid for by the grant. Hopefully, with the research and outcomes shown by SPELL, all libraries will see the importance of early literacy in their communities, and maybe allocate a few more dollars to helping the future of little ones.
Thanks for the great interest in the SPELL Symposium; registration is full! If you're interested in attending, we are maintaining a waiting list; to be placed on the list, please submit a registration form at www.surveygizmo.com/s3/2919755/SPELL-Symposium-Registration.
The Colorado State Library is thrilled that the Putting SPELL (Supporting Parents in Early Literacy through Libraries) into Action project is able to offer a few Travel Stipends for the SPELL Symposium on September 8. This stipend will also cover the registration fee for the CLEL (Colorado Libraries for Early Literacy) Conference on September 9. Both events will take place in Lakewood, Colorado. There are 15 stipends available for Colorado participants and 8 for out-of-state participants.
Go to http://www.surveygizmo.com/s3/2929129/SPELLSymposiumTravelStipendApplication to apply.
This travel stipend will cover:
Expectations: Stipend recipients will commit to Tweeting during the Symposium or submitting one blog post for the SPELL or CLEL website by September 30, 2016.
If you any questions about the application, stipend, or Symposium, please feel free contact Beth Crist, email@example.com. Thanks for your interest!
Please join us to learn all about our SPELL findings during this interactive day!
A limited number of Travel Stipends are also available for both Colorado and out-of-state attendees! Please go to http://www.surveygizmo.com/s3/2929129/SPELLSymposiumTravelStipendApplication to apply.
The day will cover:
Please let us know if you have questions about the SPELL Symposium. Thanks so much for your interest; we look forward to seeing you there!
Carol Edwards, SPELL Coordinator, firstname.lastname@example.org
Beth Crist, SPELL Project Director, email@example.com
Yes, there are! We are in the process now of gathering all that we have learned and putting it into coherent form so it will be useful to others. Just to start is a better awareness of our partners and the kinds of partnerships we had. Also some relevant comments from parents of what they were wanting to learn. Some of the early information has been posted to the documents part of the website. Take a look and let us know what you think.
Courtney Vidacovich has just joined the SPELL Project as an Evaluation Analyst. We are so pleased to have her expertise with data on board and we are sure she will be a guiding light in telling our story.
Here you have Courtney in the mountains which is where she lives. With her in the photo below is a pic of her with her best buddies on a glorious Rocky Mountain day. Courtney will be commuting as necessary to the various projects and doing a lot of number crunching from her home. You can see that she is a math person who doesn't spend every second in front of her computer. Welcome, Courtney!
The American Library Association advocates for libraries on the developing US Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) Principles for Family Engagement Practices. In the justification for including libraries in the process, the ALA paper mentions SPELL as an example of state level initiatives with impact on early childhood literacy. The states singled out for mention are: Maine, Colorado, and Wisconsin. It's exciting that word is spreading about the work of our SPELL projects and partners.
Meg DePriest, the first SPELL Project Coordinator, departed in the summer of 2015 and it took a little time to find another Project Coordinator. But now we have Carol Edwards, who previously was on the Advisory Board. We hope that more communication and updates will occur as the result of having someone focused on doing just that.
On March 9th, KSJD radio interviewed Cortez Public Library Director, Eric Ikenouye, and Laura McHenry, Children's Librarian. They discussed their efforts to reach out to parents about the importance of reading with and talking to their young children. Their program, "Read to Me, 21 Days to Form the Reading Habit," features a CuddleUppet toy blanket and a book for participants that allows parents to practice and model storytimes with their children. Cortez Public Library is partnering with numerous community partners including the Piñon Project, Montelores Early Childhood Council, the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe, and Towaoc Head Start. Laura will be meeting parents and families in the community in addition to conducting storytimes at the library. The library will also use Ready Rosie, a service that uses text messages and videos to educate parents about early literacy activities at home.
The SPELL blueprint recommends libraries promote their early literacy programs widely in the community, and this KSJD Community Radio Project interview will reach the rural audience of Montezuma County, Colorado and the four corners area. Congratulations to Eric and Laura for spreading the word about their innovative SPELL prototype!
Listen to the interview, and learn more about KSJD, here: http://ksjd.org/post/early-childhood-literacy