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Early literacy activities and programs offered through library

By MEGHAN BRADBURY - | Aug 4, 2021


Early literacy is a focal point of the Lee County Library System, especially for children younger than 5 who have not started kindergarten yet.

Lee County Library System Youth Service Coordinator Amy McWilliam said a few years ago when she took over the position she assembled an early literacy task force with library staff to look at what services and programs they offered and did not offer. She said they looked at what the community needs and what support staff needed to provide those services to families.

“One of the biggest issues was kindergarten readiness. Kids that didn’t know letters, numbers and colors. That was a concern for us. We knew we could definitely help with that issue,” McWilliam said.

With the librarians loving the storytimes they offer for the youngsters, especially when putting their own personality and creativity into the program, they pursued perfecting the time families spent at the library. Although there may be different themes, staff and personalities at the different branches, the same experience was sought to be offered.

“It’s a huge opportunity to coach parents and provide information about early literacy and show folks how easy it is to implement early literacy concepts into play, writing, singing and talking,” McWilliam said. “We provided staff training on how to do that. It’s still storytime everyone loves, but being intentional.”

The Super Charge Storytime training was provided to the librarians, which really underscored that every child is ready to read. Now when families visit storytime, they still receive songs, stories and rhymes with the addition of an early literacy tip.

“A tip could be we are going to sing the next story rather than just say the words. When you sing it slows the sounds and words and helps kids learn how to read because it helps them learn the sounds,” she explained.

She said the folks that are frequent library users most likely had kids that are ready for kindergarten, which left them reaching out to folks that do not normally come into the library.

“We also realized we needed to have a separate area for the younger children on our website,” McWilliam said.

The website, www.leelibrary.net/prek provides a plethora of early literacy information and why it is important. There is a calendar of activities every month with a simple early literacy activity every day for families that encourages talking, singing, writing and playing.

The library also has a 1,000 Books Before Kindergarten program, which has been revamped. Children who part take in the program will receive a free book when they sign up.

“We recognize that not everyone is able to have that home library,” she said of why they offer basic board books, cloth books all the way up to picture books.

The program is offered in English, Spanish and Haitian Creole, the three main languages of the county.

“Children are earning rewards and parents are getting information about early literacy,” McWilliam said, adding that it is about “building and encouraging daily reading habits and bonding between the parent and child. It encourages the love of reading.”

Every time the child hits 100 books read, they receive a new activity sheet and sticker, or a special prize. When 1,000 books are read, the child will receive another book, as well as a tote bag that says “I Read 1,000 Books.”

Individuals can sign up at www.leelibrary.net/prek and print out the activity sheet, or visit any one of the branches.

“We launched in between the global pandemic and the noise from all the elections. We got drowned out. As folks started coming back into the library, especially for the summer, our numbers jumped,” McWilliam said.

There are currently 857 kids signed up for the program.

Although McWilliam’s ultimate goal is to have every baby born in Lee County sign up for the program, the expectation is to have 5,000 kiddos from birth to 5 years old who have not started kindergarten sign up every year. The goal is to get information into the newborn packets at the hospital for parents, so the program can be introduced to every parent.

“It doesn’t matter what language being read to. Hearing the different sounds and building up knowledge of the world we live in,”she said is what counts. “Words have meaning. The language portion of it doesn’t matter.”