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Grand County libraries: Early literacy a bright idea in action at your library

Across the United States, a collective light bulb is starting to go off in the minds of educators, policy makers and parents.Americans are starting to realize the importance of early literacy.Study after study has made the point clear: Children who develop an appreciation and enjoyment of books and reading at an early age frequently before kindergarten do better in school and in life.The Grand County Libraries are more than aware of the importance of early literacy. Every library in Grand County is proactive in promoting and encouraging early literacy in a variety of programs geared toward preschool-aged children.The Fraser Valley Library, for instance, supports early childhood literacy through story hours for children under the age of six on Monday and Tuesday mornings. These are very popular with Fraser Valley residents, attracting an average of more than 30 participants. The Fraser Valley Library also conducts weekly after school clubs for elementary students.These programs help support parents in developing a love for books for their children, says Joy McCoy, youth services librarian for the Fraser Valley Library. They are the most important models, so parents are our main focus of early literacy outreach.The theme of involving parents in the early literacy efforts is common throughout the Grand County libraries.Sue Luton, branch librarian at the Grand Lake Juniper Library, says the Friday story times at 11 a.m. create a fun atmosphere during which children can learn to appreciate books in a variety of ways. Parents are involved too.I have adults and children chime in and repeat phrases, Luton said of her efforts. I encourage parents to allow their children to retell stories or to describe things that happen. I encourage children to act out a story.Luton said she reminds parents to keep books everywhere in the car, near the bathtub and in different rooms of the house. Children who see their parents reading are more likely to be readers themselves, she said.The most unique and innovative approach toward establishing early literacy is taking place at the Kremmling Library, where signing is incorporated into fostering children who love to communicate and then read.The Kremmling Library’s Moms and Tots program meets Wednesdays at 10:30 a.m. This is aimed at first-time moms and their babies, but all caregivers with an infant two-years-old or younger are welcome.Besides story time, we do ‘baby sign language, said Cathy Jones, youth services librarian in Kremmling. Hearing infants and toddlers benefit from learning sign language because they can begin to communicate with their parents by using signs before they are even able to speak.Jones has conducted research on the benefits of signing for infants. She cites the work of Anne Meeker Miller, Ph.D. in the book Baby Sing and Sign: The primary reason for signing with babies is to communicate with them and to promote their language development.Jones is thrilled with the growing success of her Moms and Tots group.One of the wonderful things about using signs with babies is that it gives caregivers a peek into babies’ minds, Jones says. Some books instruct teaching sign language as early as two months old. Two of our mothers have done this and had their baby start returning the signs at six months. It’s win-win for all involved – the children, moms and librarians have fun signing, singing and learning together.It was particularly reassuring for Jones to learn from a parent of a four-year-old that even though the child can speak now, she still signs the word please for emphasis.For Lynn Shirley, branch librarian at the Hot Sulphur Springs Library, the Thursday morning preschool-aged story hour at 10:30 a.m. is a real inspiration.I really can’t begin to tell you about it, she said. I think this is so important. Working with children and their parents is such a rewarding feeling. I especially love watching them grow and develop.Children are amazing. They are our future. I am so proud to be a small part of their lives.During this time we read stories, sing songs, play musical chairs. We also do finger plays and usually a craft project, she said.The Granby Library has two story hours for children five and under. The preschool story hour takes place 10 to 11 a.m. Wednesday mornings for children 2 and a half to 5 years old. Three to five stories are read, songs are sung and the finger plays animate the stories. The infant/toddler story time at the Granby Branch takes place Thursday mornings 10:30-11 a.m. This is geared toward babies and children up to 2 and a half years old. Sibling sometimes attend also.We do lots of songs and finger plays geared to this age group to build on gross and fine motor skills. We read one to two stories, have a small snack, then the room is available for some social time, said Lynn Jennings, youth services librarian at the Granby Library.For Jennings, offering a creative and open environment with books and reading is the key to her story hours.Children are spontaneous, creative and loving, she said. Once they get to know you they have no fear and no secrets. Right in the middle of a story or activity they will pop up with something seemingly totally off the subject, but they have been reminded by something said or done. I love that they love to be there at the story hour.With enthusiastic librarians presenting inspired preschool-aged programs, it’s obvious that the Grand County libraries are practicing what’s being preached when it comes to early literacy.For the Grand County libraries, the light bulb of early literacy has already been burning – and it’s burning brighter every day.


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