Early Childhood Literacy · Programs

Stop…Baby Time: Creating an Early Literacy Program for Babies

Talking, singing, reading, writing, playing. With these 5 activities, little tykes are on their way to developing skills and a love for reading. Sounds like fun, right? You’re darn tootin’!

As the school year approaches I have been given the opportunity to develop programs for children ages 6 weeks to 2 years. Baby Bounce is ages 6 weeks – 11 months and Funsies with Onesies is 1 year – 2 years. There are 4 sessions throughout the year, each lasting 6 weeks, once per week. Finally, I get to stretch my academic muscles and use my knowledge in a practical, influential way. After 20 years of school, I can go out into the world and make a difference. This is my chance to shine, ma!

Whelp, shining certainly takes time, dedication, research, and action.

1. You gotta love da babays. And I do love the babies. Since my Early Childhood Literacy class at Indiana University, detailed in the blog post “Revolutionary Thinkers: Early Childhood Librarians,” I have felt a strong connection to early childhood literacy and I believe passionately in its philosophy.  Librarians can help nurture pre-literacy skills at the most decisive ages of a child’s life, and that is something of which I’m proud to take part.

Kalexanderson's Flickr
Gotta love ’em–even the baby stormtroopers.

2. Apply your education to the task at hand. Keep your books, keep your notes, keep your contacts, and remember what you learned! I went through my school notes and the Every Child Ready to Read 2nd Edition handbook in order to identify what my programs were going to accomplish. I was trained in the American Library Association’s Every Child Ready to Read (ECRR) 2nd edition. This program supports 5 early literacy activities: talking, singing, reading, writing, playing. The power in these activities is their simplicity. Parents understand what these mean. They are reassured that their everyday interaction is building their child’s ability to succeed.

3. Research in your own terms. After sifting through my notes on ECRR, I needed to narrow it down to the basic fundamentals: what do these activities accomplish? Here are the blurbs I made for our website.

Talking: Children learn language by listening to their parents and others talk. Building vocabulary and learning about the world around them will help your child make connections between stories and real life. Furthermore, when your child talks to you, she is engaging in self-expression and developing her narrative skills by creating her own stories. By imitating the story structure she loves, she is developing an early desire to read and reinforcing her vocabulary.

Singing: Songs are a wonderful way to slow down language and separate syllables. Most songs rhyme which allow a child to distinguish similar sounding words. All this develops phonological awareness, or the ability to hear and play with the smaller sounds in words. Most importantly, singing develops a powerful bond between caregiver and child that creates a loving environment for early literacy.

Reading: Reading together is the single most important way to help children get ready to read. Not only does it increase vocabulary, but children can develop print awareness, or knowing how to handle a book and how we follow the words on a page. Creating a fun environment for reading encourages more reading in the future.

Writing: Writing begins with scribbles, then comes letter knowledge. Children can start by knowing that letters are different from each other, and that they have different names and are related to sounds.

Playing: Children learn a lot about language through play. Play helps children learn symbolically, so they understand that spoken and written words can stand for real objects and experiences. Play also engages children in problem solving, improves social interactions, and builds comprehension for reading.

One of my coworker’s concerns about the new ECRR was that it strayed too far from early literacy research. This is addressed in the 2nd ECRR edition, but it could be overlooked.

Two broad sets of skills are needed for early reading success and beyond: decoding and comprehension.

  • Decoding: Strong predictors of early reading success–learn the code, noticing print, knowing letter names and sound, hearing sounds that make up words
  • Comprehension: Foundation to become proficient readers–knowing what words mean (vocabulary recognition), understand the meaning of printed language
    • Comprehension Boosters: show print concepts, think aloud (model how a critical thinker approaches a book), give info, explain, question

Decoding and comprehension skills are intertwined with the 5 early literacy activities (talking, singing, reading, writing, playing). This academic vocabulary gives the 5 early literacy activities a backbone.

All in all, I would highly suggest researching all the literature behind ECRR and developing your own cumulative understanding. If you have already been introduced to ECRR or briefly trained, revisit the research and reinforce your knowledge.

4. Identify your audience. For the very young (6 weeks – 1 year), the parents are the main audience. This will be their first time in a baby class and, perhaps, their first exposure to the theory behind early literacy. Therefore, education is key. I have created a handout for parents to take home that includes all rhymes, and the early literacy skill I highlighted for that program. I will discuss the handouts later. Unfamiliarity is a key barrier you must overcome.  Parents might be nervous singing and bouncing along next to other parents, so I repeat each rhyme at least twice. Bring back successful rhymes from previous classes. Use at least one familiar Mother Goose rhyme per session that, hopefully, all caregivers will know. In our summer program, I used a baby doll to imitate what caregivers should do with their child.

This guy is LOVING your program.

For a little bit older (1 year – 2 years), I focus on both parents and kids. They are beginning to notice you and notice each other. Use a child’s name in songs. Make eye contact. I go a little lighter on the academic talk, but I still include pointers.

5. Create a consistent structure – for the baby’s sake and yours. Routines are essential in planning your program. “For young children, every day is packed with learning and excitement, and routines provide relief from the chaos” (Wang, J. B. “Why Is Routine Important for Babies?” American Baby). Being introduced to too many new things can be overwhelming. Other than the relief it provides, routines provides repetition which lead to more effective learning (Hogg, T. & M. Blau. The Baby Whisperer Solves All Your Problems). This is where structure comes in. I used the structure provided in Babies in the Library by Jane Marino and tweaked it a little. The pre-walkers include:

  1. Self and Clapping rhymes—little bit slower
  2. Lap-riding/action songs—faster
  3. Self and Clapping rhymes—little bit slower
  4. Choral Reading Book
  5. Lullabies
  6. Toys

The walkers include:

  1. Longer, warm-up song (get settled into the program)
  2. Clapping Rhymes
  3. Pretend Rhymes (nursery rhymes, used around the house, outside, etc.)
  4. Activity Rhymes (stand up and use whole body)
  5. Lap-sit bounce
  6. Book
  7. Finger/Clapping Rhymes
  8. Toys

While some librarians rely on themes as structure, I feel like this would severely limit your ability to create a flowing, organic program. Now, I haven’t tried this structure out so I will reflect on the effects of this in the future. Babies generally lose focus towards the end of a program, so the reading time might have to get moved. However, Marino states that after softer rhymes, the babies will be more settled and focused. We shall soon see…

6. Choose short books, read together, and read as a leader.Book reading is a delicate balance. From a survey that my library conducted last year, several parents mentioned that their child only disliked reading time. At such a young age, it’s hard to get them focused on anything for longer than a passing moment. (Although, a friend of mine likes to bring up the day she gave her baby a box lined with newspaper. She was in there for close to 30 minutes giggling like a tickled baboon. I empathize.)

It’s good to keep the story short with lots of white space and bold colors. Rhythmic stories are fun and memorable. At this point in their development, exposing them to book reading TIME is key. They can begin to understand that pages turn and they can be exposed to pictures, peek-a-boo flaps, and, in some cases, real photographs. Another example of books in storytime is represented on a former classmate’s blog, The Show Me Librarian.

For babies, I will utilize choral reading, where the whole group reads together. This allows caregivers to model the librarian by being more expressive and reading slower. In order to do this, Fremont PL has non-circulating copies of exemplary board books. Each session I bring in 15 of the same book and we read the first half together and the second half alone. For onesies, I will read a very short book to the group.


7. Handouts encourage engagement at home. My handouts include the program’s rhymes, songs, books, and the early literacy tip of the week. Because there are only 5 in ECRR, The first program is an introduction to early literacy. When the caregiver gets home, remembers the tune but not the words, they have something to reference (if the handout makes it home alive, lord willing).

As stated before, this program is ready to be tested. I’m excited for it, but certainly willing to alter things around if they don’t work for me, for the audience, or for the sanity of us both. More to come later.

2 thoughts on “Stop…Baby Time: Creating an Early Literacy Program for Babies

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s