January 2009

henrybooksHere’s a great story, “Play time helps boost child literacy,” from the online London (Ontario) Free Press, about the links between the play of babies and toddlers and pre-literacy skills. Most of us who’ve been involved in pre-literacy skills and young children have known this stuff for a while, but each generation of new parents doesn’t have a clue how literacy happens, needs to learn it, and we librarians need to take a major role in spreading those facts around. Here’s a quote:

“Play is important because right now they’re developing emergent literacy skills,” said Patti Prentice, a literacy specialist with the Ontario Early Years Centre. “Before (children) can read or write, they need to have skills.”

Community agencies in London are making literacy a priority, after a report found one in five Londoners lack literacy skills needed to understand a simple drug label.

Babies are born with a set number of brain cells. As they play, sing songs and have face time with a parent or caregiver, their brain cells make connections that set the foundation for early literacy.

Experts say those connections are made between birth and three years of age.

“They have to build them all and then it’s a case of use them or lose them,” said Prentice.

The article is accompanied by a sidebar, “Early Literacy Games,” listing simple activities parents and other adults can do to enhance babies’ and toddlers’ pre-literacy skills. For example, here’s how to build babies’ awareness of sounds, AKA phonological awareness, one of the basics of literacy:

Age: Up to three months

—Imitate the noises your baby makes with his or her mouth, including kissing sounds, tongue clicking, “raspberries,” suck in air quickly and blow it out quickly.

Age: Three to six months

—Fill small containers with different things, such as dry beans, rice, bells or marbles. Be sure the lid is on tightly. Give baby a shaker and say, “shake, shake, shake.” Then give the baby other containers. Try to imitate the sounds and respond when the baby does the same.

I wish they broadcast stuff like this as part of halftime at the Super Bowl, or in place of commercials during shows like 24. But I don’t think they ever will, so it’s up to folks like us to let adults know how children gain the skills they need to learn to read. Remember to get the pre-literacy message out to all the parents, grandparents, and others you encounter who work with kids under three, and build that link between literacy and the library.


cookiemonsterWell, I don’t believe (I can’t believe!) that the Cookie Monster is really a terrorist, but he certainly looks like one for us these days on the cover of the October 1976 Sesame Street magazine. As someone who was actually in Manhattan on 9/11 (in my case, trapped underground on an E train near Times Square for a couple of hours while trying to get to work), this cover looks pretty spooky.

It’s so, well, predictive of what happened 25 years later…  But to put it all in perspective, we should remember that in 1976 a remake of King Kong, in which Kong climbed the new World Trade Center, was out in movie theaters. But that version of Kong has been pretty much forgotten, and now, chomping the WTC has a very different meaning.

This picture can be found in full size on this Flickr page.

henrymusicDo you remember the post not too long ago about the MA library that loans out a ukulele? The “Unshelved” guys (one of whom is a uke player) did a comic strip about it. I’ve noted in the past that Americans tend to enjoy ukuleles, or they hate them in the way some folks hate glockenspiels or accordions, and the dichotomy between the two attitudes is pretty apparent in this strip.

Anyway, hooray! (As I always say when anyone recognizes, for better or worse, that ukes aren’t just toys, even when kids are playing them.)

bearI’m starting the new year with an old song, “The Bear Went Over the Mountain.” I looked in my copy of Tom Glazer’s Treasury of Songs for Children (Doubleday, 1988), as well as in Wikipedia, and it doesn’t appear to have any kind of story behind it. It’s just a silly song set to the tune of “For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow” (which means of course that you can use the uke chords I offer here for that song, too).

I’ve often used this song for toddler and preschool storytime sessions in which I brought out the big box of rhythm instruments – the drums, tambourines, shakers, and sticks – and descended with the children into sonic chaos. But it’s a fun sonic chaos, since most young children don’t really get the idea of a beat, but they sure enjoy making noise. The trick, of course, is “Can you, as song leader, guide this noise, and have the children follow your directions?”

I would encourage the kids to beat, shake, or pound their instruments whenever I’d reach the spot indicated by “dramatic pause” in the lyric sheet. I’d pause in the song, strum the uke percussively (rest your fingers, lightly, over the strings and strum yourself a drum roll), and shout out, “Faster!” or “Slower!” or “Louder!” or “Softer!” and then…. “Stop!” And then I’d go right into “To see what he could see…”

It’s fun. Try it.