It’s a small staff that’s making a big difference for kids getting ready to start school, and Renee Edwards, outreach manager for the Library’s Early Literacy Services (ELS) division, says the impact they’re making on the early childhood community is its own reward.
“I get emails from people all the time, who are just ecstatic about the services we provide,” says Edwards. The team of four (herself and three part-time assistants) visit with and conduct story times at over 150 facilities every month. “Some of the evaluations say ‘Don’t ever stop doing this!’”
Edwards began her career as an elementary school teacher, before moving into a school librarian position. She calls coordinating early literacy services for the library “the best of both worlds.”
The program’s goal is to provide resources and opportunities to the early childhood community. Story times for preschool-age children in child care centers, Head Start classrooms and family child care are the primary vehicle, but Edwards says the program is also designed to “teach others to fish.”
“It’s amazing to me the number of people who don’t understand how we can help children get ready for school,” Edwards notes. “We have so many resources and services we can offer them to work with the children in their care.”
The early literacy trainings provided by Edwards and her staff help ELS cast a wider net, teaching child care providers how to get children excited about reading and writing through fun activities and creative programs, to get children ready for reading and writing once they enter the school system. An early literacy newsletter and “what’s new in picture books” handout also help child care providers create a solid foundation.
Initially Edwards says, it was tough to make inroads and convince child care providers and others to bring story time into their facilities. Now, the program can barely keep up with the demand. “I get emails from people all the time saying ‘can you come?’ Once they see you or hear about you from a co-worker or parent, they want to be a part of it.”
The program is based on the Public Library Association’s Every Child Ready to Read initiative, teaching child care providers and parents about the importance of early literacy and ways to nurture pre-reading skills.
In addition to Edwards and her three part-time staffers, the program also relies on a core group of about 23 story-time volunteers who are assigned to various locations throughout the county. All told, the group reaches approximately 2,500 children every month.
Story time involves a theme, which is represented in the books selected and in songs, rhymes and other activities. Each story time lasts for about 20 minutes and Edwards says since teachers and other child care providers are typically part of the audience it’s also a great way to model effective techniques.
“They see how we’re doing it, they see how excited the kids are, and hopefully they will incorporate some of our strategies,” she explains.
ELS also puts together theme-based book bags for teachers and providers to check out from the library, with books and supporting materials. “We put everything together and make it easy to use our resources,” Edwards notes.
Thanks to the Fairfax Library Foundation, the group is also able to distribute free picture books to children, teachers and child care providers at almost every story time, giving out over 2,000 books each month.
With a top-notch staff and volunteers assisting her, and the knowledge that the program is creating a foundation to help kids be successful in school, Edwards says she feels very fortunate.
“I work with an amazing team of really great people who believe in this program and what it can offer,” Edwards says. “And I think we’re making a real difference in the community. I feel very lucky to be able to do this.”