Tiny tots take in tutelage at the library

The Enterprise — Sean Mulkerrin
I spy … a dinosaur! Maddy Pangburn shows off her dino for The Enterprise. 

VOORHEESVILLE — To the outside observer without small children, the Library Tots program at the Voorheesville Public Library may look like chaos being controlled through song and rhyme, but for parents Library Tots is preparing their children’s cognitive and linguistic development so that they will be ready to learn how to read.

The program is for newborns and children up to 3 years old, and emphasizes sharing, books, music, rhymes, and playtime. A child’s skills are developed through techniques like:

— Choral reading: reading aloud and in unison in a group, which helps build children’s fluency, self-confidence, and motivation; and

— Action rhymes and songs: interactive activities like fingerplays, hand and body movements, rhyming, and lyric creation as a way to learn language, vocabulary, and educational concepts.

“Kids who don’t pick up literacy early in life are at a severe disadvantage,” said Gail Brown, the library’s manager of youth and family services. Brown is also an early-literacy specialist.

The National Assessment of Educational Progress, the largest nationally representative and continuing assessment of what students know and can do in various subject areas, said that nearly a third of fourth-graders fail to achieve basic levels of reading achievement.

This is a problem that tends to continue unabated.

“If they don’t have that foundation, they aren’t ready to read,” Brown said. “There is a lot of catch-up that needs to happen, and often times it doesn’t.”

One study, from the Learning Disability Institute, found that 74 percent of children who perform poorly in reading in third grade continue to do so into high school.

The rest of person’s life will only become harder if he or she leaves school with low literacy. People who can’t read are often paid less, are unemployed more often, are less informed about civic affairs and thus less likely to vote, and are more likely to have trouble with the law or to become involved in other socially harmful activities, according to a report from the National Institute for Literacy.


The Enterprise — Sean Mulkerrin
Adorable Alex: Alexander Willit holds onto his mother’s leg during the Library Tots program at the Voorheesville Public Library. 


Studies have shown that early cognitive and linguistic development predict later achievement, much later achievement in fact, according to the report from the National Institute for Literacy.

Libraries are at the fore when it comes to developing literacy skills.

This is because libraries can expose children to voluminous quantities of print and meaningful language opportunities that are crucial to reading achievement as well as having a properly-trained staff to help.

Library staff model for parents “strategies that they can use and do at home,” said Brown. “We give them little tips, like ‘This is something you can use to build letter knowledge or phonological awareness,’ because those are important things that kids will need to know to enter school and be ready to read.”

A study from Temple University illustrates the need for libraries: “Research shows that children need exposure to a wide variety of high-quality books of various topics, genres, and perspectives in order to acquire literacy skills.”

As a public good, libraries have the ability to provide children of all backgrounds access to high-quality reading materials and language experiences.

“That’s why libraries are really important,” said Brown, “because, if people can bring their kids to the library, they are getting that [instruction and help].”

And libraries are able to step in when school is not in session.

Summer-reading programs attract large numbers of children at a time when reading skills often decline.

At the Voorheesville Public Library, a typical summer Library Tots session can have as many as 75 kids; during the rest of the year a typical session has about 25 children.  

Before children can read, according to the National Institute for Literacy, they need to develop skills that will allow them to learn how to read:

— Alphabet knowledge: knowledge of the names and sounds associated with printed letters;

— Phonological awareness: the ability to detect, manipulate, or analyze the auditory aspects of spoken language, independent of meaning;

— Rapid automatic naming of letters or digits: the ability to quickly name a sequence of random letters or digits;

— Rapid automatic naming of objects or colors: the ability to promptly name a sequence of repeating random sets of pictures of objects or colors;

— Writing letters or writing a name: the ability to write letters in isolation on request or to write one’s own name; and

— Phonological memory: the ability to remember spoken information for a short period of time.

For children in the Library Tots class taught by Amy DuBrey — the kids call her Miss Amy — the key to success is that the program does not change week to week; typically it’s the same program for an entire year.

This allows learning through repetition, which Brown said is important for a child’s brain development.

“They are hearing it over and over again, and it’s building those synapses in the brain,” she said. “They are building those connections and they are learning.”

“For little kids, it’s really important that there is routine and repetition — it aids in learning,” Brown said.

Maddy Pangburn has been part of Library Tots every Thursday since she was eight months old, her grandmother Carol Maikoff said. Maddy is now 2 years and 3 months old.

“She loves it, likes to play, it’s a lot of fun,” Maikoff said.

“She has wonderful language skills, that’s one of her strengths,” said Maikoff. “I would have to say it's attributed to the stimulation at home and here.”

And as much as Library Tots is for developing a child’s literacy skills, another objective of the group is to get parents to socialize.

One study said that the transition into motherhood is more socially isolating in modern times than in the past. That study by Telethon Kids Institute of the University of Western Australia, found that programs that promote the development of social networks for parents — in particular, socially isolated parents — can be a valuable tool for new parents.

“We want them to form connections and network with one another,” said DuBrey. “We’ve had many groups that have come through here that have remained friends.”

“I know of one group of grandmothers that still get together … That age group is now seven years old,” said DuBrey.

Another study from the Australian government found that parents had reported improvement in their social lives due to the development of new relationships from their child’s group. And, participating in the group, for parents, helped to lessen social isolation and contributed to their feeling of wellbeing and confidence.

Parents reported becoming more confident when it came to caring for their young children as well, and attributed that to the skills and techniques that had been developed in the group.

“It’s really a wonderful first, positive experience for our families, they continue to be lifelong learners with us,” DuBrey said of her Library Tots program.

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