/Early literacy at the library 
Sunny and Violet became friends at the Haliburton County Public Library Minden branch at Meet the Author Storytime in October. /Photo submitted

Early literacy at the library 

By Chris Stephenson

The staff at Haliburton County Public Library (HCPL) are here to support lifelong learning for all community members. However, this starts with our youngest patrons, as we create early literacy programs and services for families all year round. Long before participating in summer reading club, many children are introduced to the public library before the age of 3. Science tells us that between birth and this exciting age, the brain of a child is already developing millions of neural connections each second. An important foundation for learning is built at this time, and the library can play a role during this vital part of childhood.

Step into any public library in Ontario and you should expect to see a dedicated children’s area. This may include child-sized furniture, a colourful rug or special chair for Storytime, and a great many picture books. We love to see people picking out books and reading with children in our branches. Parents, grandparents, and other caregivers are often pleased to discover the selection of books we have for readers of all ages. But, we also encourage songs, play, and group reading initiatives here. The library of 2022 is a busy and sometimes noisy place, depending on when you may choose to visit. Regular Storytimes are a substantial part of the fun. 

Storytime helps to foster early literacy skills because it provides parents and caregivers guidance on how they can read, sing, and play with their children. During Storytime, the librarian provides tips and models some best practices. This may be simple, such as a reminder that “books should be fun and accessible! Keep them around your house and in your child’s toy box to help associate them with fun.”

Singing and rhyming is an important part of the learning process. It develops awareness of sounds and new words, teaching phonics in a fun way before formal schooling begins. We sing at every Storytime! By 6 months, babies are already starting to recognize language in songs and rhymes. The natural rhythm of language becomes apparent, as singing helps us slow down words and sentences. This helps our little ones identify and build their vocabulary.    

Reading together builds confidence and is the best way to help children become proficient readers. Did you know that children’s books often contain three times more rare words than talking? Repetition and practice are fundamental to increasing those neural pathways and reading offers powerful development.

 Constructive play is also a significant way that children can learn language and literacy from a young age. At HCPL we have ‘blue blocks,’ foam bones, and LEGO for the slightly older kids.  These play tools give children an opportunity to make decisions and select shapes, sizes, and colours while communicating what they want to build with peers and adults. You’ll often see library staff interacting with children to ask them what they’re building. This subtle question-and-answering leads to an increase in the use of oral language, and the choosing of words which is an essential step of early literacy.

The HCPL website, at www.haliburtonlibrary.ca/Programs-events, offers a calendar of events which can be filtered for different age groups. Here you’ll find programs that engage your young learner, such as the “Let’s Build: Blue Blocks & Bones” activity happening during November’s school PD Day. There are also LEGO tables set up in some of our branches and if you don’t see one available, you can ask us for a LEGO kit when you visit.

If you’d like help selecting an appropriate picture book for a particular learning level, you’re always welcome to ask library staff for advice. New books and resources are added to our collection every month. We’re thrilled to see kids and their families leaving with a healthy stack of books.

In addition to the many library offerings for young people, we regularly partner with local literacy organizations. These relationships help us expand literacy by bringing expertise to the library which benefits our community. For example, staff from the EarlyON Child & Family Centre regularly run programs within our library branches across the County. They also provide incredible book packs, which have reading materials and activities for young families. The library helps to distribute these free book packs at each of our branches. The newest ones will be available in early November, so please ask our staff about this.

This year we’ll start offering bilingual Storytime, too. Our latest partnership with Canadian Parents for French Ontario will assist us in running French Storytimes once a month this fall.  Join us on Dec. 3 at the Dysart branch. We’ll host it again Jan. 14 and Feb. 11.  In the meantime, we’re also getting great support and recommendations on how we can build up our French collection throughout the HCPL library system.

A unique Storytime occurred in October where we welcomed a very special furry guest named ‘Sunny.’ This was a fun Meet the Author event, where we featured a book by local author Joanne George.

The public library is here to help support your family for early learning and literacy, and we hope you’ll partake with the little people in your life. We recently added colourful new child-sized chairs to the children’s reading area at the Dysart branch. And in our other branches you’ll find beanbags and cozy tub chairs which can accommodate a big reader and a little reader together. We hope to see you at the library soon!