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Encouraging Adult Participation in Early Literacy Storytimes: Guest Post by Saroj Ghoting

[Ed. Note: We are thrilled to share this post by Saroj Ghoting, noted Early Literacy Storytime expert. What do YOU do in your storytimes to encourage parent participation? Please share in the comments.]
Doing early literacy enhanced storytimes is most effective when it is more than inserting three asides or tips to the parents during a half hour storytime. Our role shifts somewhat from presenter to facilitator as we try to encourage interactions between the adults and children. Here are some ideas on ways to involve parents that you can also apply to other rhymes, stories, etc.
1. Nametags for the adults as well as the children, so they feel part of the storytime. This is especially important if you are changing your expectations of adult involvement/participation and have a lot of regulars. Having nametags for the adults is one way to signal the change. Some libraries have a storytime flyer which includes expected behaviors as well as procedures. Incorporating expectations into the introduction to your storytimes helps too.
2. Choral reading of big books--all reading together. I hear the children, how about the adults too! And for those youngest children, especially, they love to hear the sound of their parent/caregiver’s voice.
3. Putting words to songs/rhymes on flipcharts so everyone can say the words easily together.
4. When you had out scarves or shakers, etc. make sure you have enough for both adults and children.
5. Include a shared reading time (even 3 minutes or so) where they might choose a book and read with their children. You can point out an aspect of dialogic reading or talk about a way to share a book and have them try it.
6. Repeated phrases in books--adults say one phrase, children another. For example, with the book Too Much Noise by Ann McGovern, one way to make that book participative is to have the attendees say the sounds of the animals and the words, “too noisy.” You can still start out that way, but make it more interactive between the adults and the children by trying this: the children say the sounds of the animals and the adults were to say "Too noisy". They get a kick out of it every time--like a conversation. As the children's animal noises get louder the adults are putting hands over their ears even without prompting.
7. Along those same lines, think about ways you can make things you already do more interactive. Here is an example with Hickory Dickory Dock: First you can have them do it as a fingerplay. Then they can stand up and act it out. First we do it all together using appropriate motions. Then the adults are the clock and the children are the mice--"climbing" up the adult. One time a child said--OK, now it's our turn to be the clock and we reversed roles (I hadn't thought of that!). It’s easy to do something similar with Eeensy Weesny Spider and other rhymes.
8. It is important to help parents know how important they are to their children. DC Public Libraries have the motto STAR for their parent/child workshops which stands for Sing Talk and Read. Some of them use this song to the tune of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star:
Twinkle twinkle all the stars
That is what you really are
We sing, talk and read together
We'll enjoy our books forever
You are your child's brightest star
That is what you really are.
Saroj Ghoting
Early Childhood Literacy Consultant

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