Parents and Libraries Cultivating Roots of Early Literacy

by Elizabeth Howard
Storytime and other early literacy programs that libraries offer usually focus on children. Parent education is not typically the primary intent. So we were thrilled when 24 parents and 22 children came out to Tallatoona Head Start last month to participate in our first parent education initiative—Every Child Ready to Read (ECRR) pre-literacy workshop. We were told that if we got 10 parents to sign up, we would be fortunate.


At the beginning of the workshop we separated the children and parents into two groups. I explained to the parents—while the children played with Nyala Edwards, assistant branch manager of Technical and Public Services—that early literacy begins with the primary adults in a child’s life. I also discussed the vital role the library plays in helping parents in their quest to enhance their children’s early literacy skills.

After that I discussed and modeled the five practices of ECRR that are crucial to the development of any child’s learning process—talking, singing, reading, writing, and playing. These practices help children master pre-reading skills so they will be ready to learn to read by kindergarten. They’re easy to do with children of all ages and can be done in the car, at the grocery store, at home, or while waiting in a doctor’s office.



Talk with your children. Conversations help them learn about language, by listening to others and responding. They learn what words mean, and how to communicate ideas and information.


Songs are a natural way to learn about language. Songs contain rhythm and rhyme, and singing helps to break down words into syllables, so children can hear individual parts of words.


Reading with your children allows you to capture their full attention while enjoying each other. Author Emilie Buchwald said, “Children are made readers on the laps of their parents.” Reading together will develop in your children a love and appreciation for reading that will carry on throughout life. Reading increases vocabulary, gets children familiar with how written language looks, and helps them understand not only how a physical book works but how a story is structured with a beginning, middle, and end.


You need to give your children paper and every opportunity to scribble, draw, or write the moment they can grasp a crayon or marker. Writing makes children aware that printed letters stand for spoken words as they see print in their daily lives. Include your children in regular writing activities. For example, have them sign their name in a card or on a letter. Writing also teaches fine motor skills and hand-eye coordination.



Children learn language they learn to think symbolically through different kinds of play. Through play, a ruler can become a king’s scepter or a soldier’s sword, and a playmate can become a pirate. Playing helps children develop oral and social skills.

After speaking with the adults, the children came back to their parents and as a group began practicing these steps. We provided the families with a white board, marker, and letters to trace, to implement the five steps. At the end of class, each family took home the supplies and a bag full of books to start their own library.


The feedback from the parents was positive. They said they’ve already engaged in most of these steps, but after learning about each step’s unique value in early learning and development, these parents felt compelled to begin spending more time with their children and to intentionally practice all five. The others had no idea how essential these simple steps can be in getting their children ready for school, and were ready to begin implementing them.

Elizabeth Howard is assistant Branch Manager of Children’s Services at Calhoun-Gordon County Library.

The Calhoun-Gordon County Library was able to offer this workshop to local parents and children, thanks to an award from the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS), the primary source of federal support for the nation’s 123,000 libraries and 35,000 museums. IMLS has awarded Georgia Public Library Service a $249,895 National Leadership Grant to develop a customized early literacy program within libraries to reach parents of young children.

Learn more about Every Child Ready to Read.

Find out why we need to feed our children a daily dose of language nutrition.