Literacy Without Limits: The Power of “I wonder”

This is the fourth in a series of conference reflections contributed by CLEL 2019 attendees who received scholarships.

During the 2019 Colorado Libraries for Early Literacy, I noticed a theme across the sessions I attended. In each session, I was being challenged to see the possibilities and not the impossibilities in the ideas presented.

In the workshop Factual Fun for Everyone, Cassandra Bland from the High Plains Library talked about not only the importance of incorporating non-fiction books into storytime, but also about her specific experiences and books she’s used during storytimes. Bland encouraged us to think about what topics or stories the kids are interested in and how to pair those books with non-fiction books. The beautiful thing to remember is, you don’t have to read every word on the page or even every page in non-fiction books! Select just the impactful portions to share with the kids!

In the workshop Play, Learn, Grow: Big Dreams for Early Literacy, Melody Garcia from Colorado Department of Education, talked about how 57% of children are cared for by family members, friends, and neighbors (FFN caregivers). Garcia encouraged us to wonder, what can we do beyond storytimes to support this large patron community?

“We wonder… if you took away all of the barriers, what would early literacy look like in your library?”

The team presented a variety of ideas to expand early literacy beyond storytime. Doing more than just storytimes creates opportunities for caregivers with different schedules, welcomes kids who struggle with storytime structure, flexible programming for caregivers with children of different ages, and models early learning that can be extended to their home.

One concept Garcia presented, asset mapping, was discussed as a way to uncover new locations in the community for pop-ups and opportunities for new community partnerships. We were challenged to think about:

  • Where are the kids found in the community?
  • Where are the community spaces located?
  • Who do we have existing partnerships with?
  • Who might we want to reach out to and develop a relationship?
  • What about the farmers market for a pop-up storytime?
  • What about storytimes during soccer practice for the siblings?

In the workshop Create Engaging Spaces & Activities: Lessons from Beyond Libraryland, Beth Crist, State Library – Colorado Department of Education, challenged us to create inviting environments that spark imagination and learning. Museums across the country are creating these amazing spaces, utilizing building tools and materials that are not “dumbed down” (e.g. using real kid-sized hammers verses cheap plastic ones), activities that require the kid’s whole body and engage multiple senses.

Crist encouraged us to stop ourselves from saying, “we could never…” and start saying, “How could this look in my library?” What an empowering shift in perspective! The sensory water play table sounds a lot more manageable if I think about taking it outside to the grass on a nice day!

What will you wonder about today? Wonder, be curious, and look at the community with fresh eyes! I challenge you, as they have challenged me, to give yourself permission to think big, think without limits, and to imagine how that idea can work in your library too!


All workshop session materials can be found on the CLEL website. Click here to access the conference materials page for 2019.


  • Factual Fun for Everyone – Cassandra Bland, High Plains Library
  • Play, Learn, Grow: Big Dreams for Early Literacy – Melody Garcia, Colorado Department of Education
  • Create Engaging Spaces & Activities: Lessons from Beyond Libraryland – Beth Crist, State Library, Colorado Department of Education