Earlier this summer (jeez, how is summer over already!?) I went to the Birth to 3 Institute put on by the Early Head Start National Resource Center in Washington, DC. This was the 18th annual institute where Early Head Start caregivers, administrators, and everyone in between and then some come together to talk about the latest research, share best practices, and discuss how to best care for infants and toddlers.
As a children’s librarian I work with young children and families, mostly through storytime and other library programs, but also through parent and caregiver workshops about early literacy development. Going to this Institute gave me a much deeper insight into the development of those little ones. It backed up a lot of what the library already knows about brain development and best practices for early experiences for children. It also shed new light on the multifaceted needs of these children, their families, and those people who care for them. Libraries aren’t just places to check out books; we all know that. I think we can definitely learn from other institutions, especially those that serve children, about their best practices. I’ve been mulling over everything I learned there, and decided it’s finally time I write something about it. Of course, I learned a lot (a lot!) at the Institute, so I’m going to do my best to keep it brief and break it up into a few segments.
The opening session of the Institute included a presentation by Dr. Sarah Roseberry Lytle from the University of Washington called “Building Baby Brains: The Importance of Early Experiences”. It was AMAZING. I mean, not only was she a great speaker, her content was just so interesting. Dr. Roseberry Lytle does research on infant brain development as part of the I-LABS Outreach division at University of Washington. Their website shares updates on their research. They also have some great educational modules where you can learn more about infant and toddler brain development.
I think their sites share their research better than I could, so I’m going to try to sum up some of the storytime connections and early literacy tips that came to light:
- Babies start learning immediately and these early experiences really do matter. If we ever need to fight for the right to storytime, this research backs us up!
- Infants and toddlers need live social interactions to learn language. Sharing songs and books in storytime provide enriching environments where children and caregivers can learn from us and from each other.
- Quantity of language matters. I’m sure lots of us have heard of the 30 million word gap between children growing up in different socio-economic classes. Sharing this information with parents and caregivers is important.
- Emotions are huge. They have done research that shows that adult interactions affect how kids act. When adults spoke in negative tones or argued with each other, kids were less likely to play or interact, and therefore less likely to learn and experience new things. We should be mindful of the tones we use while working with kids when we are talking to them and around them. Creating a positive environment in the library will foster learning and creativity.
- Scaffolding learning is important. We can build on skills during storytime and through the activities we offer in our libraries. Examples of this include asking questions while reading books to relate the books back to real life and encouraging prediction and vocabulary development.
Knowing all of this is definitely empowering. I think it will help me to create more engaging and developmentally appropriate storytimes and programs for this age group.