Written by Chad Dally
It may seem obvious that libraries – public and academic alike – support literacy. They have books, magazines and other materials people can read, and provide programming like family story times, so that’s all there is to it, right?
Yes and no: Yes, the simple act of reading helps keep the brain sharp and literate; and no, there’s more to it than that, at least as far as the Marathon County Public Library is concerned.
November marks National Family Literacy Month, which began in 1994 through the efforts of the non-profit National Center for Families Learning (NCFL) and “offers an opportunity for practitioners to emphasize the important role that families play in the education of their children,” according to the NCFL.
At MCPL, we have several different programs and resources specifically to support and encourage literacy among families, which we think are worth mentioning during National Family Literacy Month. First up: programming.
It’s true that our nine MCPL locations are not quite back to the normal, pre-pandemic ways we offer programming. But we’ve also put a lot of effort into alternative ways to still bring programs to the public, including with story times. Some of our branch locations offered outdoor story times over the summer, and we’ve also worked hard to create original Family Story Time videos. New stories are posted every week on the MCPL website and Facebook page, and they’re archived on the MCPL YouTube channel. If your child or children, or the children you care for, find stories they like they can watch them as many times as they’d like! (Bonus: Our story videos also frequently include fun craft projects!)
The Marathon County Public Library was the first library in Wisconsin to offer the LENA Start program to our community, along with other partners including the Wisconsin Institute for Public Policy and Service, Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin-Community Services and the Medical College of Wisconsin-Central Wisconsin. Since the program began in 2018, nearly 280 families have passed through and “graduated” from the program!
LENA (which stands for Language ENvironment Analysis) measures the early language environment of children ages birth to 32 months. Using a “talk pedometer” that children wear in a comfortable, child-safe vest, LENA technology tracks conversations with children and the amount of words they hear. It’s important to note that conversations and words are not recorded, just the data. Parents and caregivers then meet weekly to discuss the results and participate in parent education classes led by the trained LENA staff. Families also receive a free book each week so they’ll have 10 new books by the end of the 10-week course!
How does this support literacy, you might ask? Children from birth onward learn through talking, singing, reading, and playing. During these interactions, children learn how the world works, acquire vocabulary, and stimulate different parts of their brain, as well as many other benefits. While this may seem easy enough, some caregivers may simply not be talking enough or using a wide variety of words.
For more information on the LENA program, or if you or someone you know is interested in participating, call our MCPL Wausau children’s department at 715-261-7220 for more information. The next session begins in late February 2022.
1,000 Books Before Kindergarten
For years, the Marathon County Public Library has challenged parents with a fun initiative called 1,000 Books Before Kindergarten, which is exactly what it sounds like: We encourage parents to read 1,000 books with their children before starting kindergarten. It’s meant to introduce children to a wide variety of literature, encourage quality family time together and promote pre-literacy.
Don’t let that big number discourage you, either! Reading one book every day – different ones, or the same ones if your children have favorites – means you could reach 1,000 books in less than three years. That number drops to less than two years if families read 10 books together every week! We have incentives along the way, such as stickers, books and book bags, and participants can also track their progress through the virtual reading app Beanstack. Give us a call at 715-261-7220 if you’d like to know more or would like to participate!
Online Resources Promoting Literacy
Families also have other ways to celebrate November’s National Family Literacy Month and stay motivated to keep reading the rest of the year – including several online resources available 24/7 with an MCPL library card:
Book Connections: This site seeks to help readers connect more deeply with children’s and young adult books. It has thousands of read-along audiobook performances (meaning young ones can read a physical or e-book copy of a book while listening to an audio performance via Book Connections.) It also features another couple thousand complete book readings, authors pronouncing and telling the stories of their names and much, much more. Bonus for parents and educators: The site also features many different resources for adults such as lesson plans, suggestions for infusing reading lists with more diversity and more! Extra bonus: The entire site is available in more than 100 different languages!
Novelist K-8: This site is a reader’s advisory service specially designed for kids (and their parents or caregivers) where they can find information about authors and information on specific books – including info on books that are part of a series. Also available through Novelist is a “read-alikes” section where kids and adults can look up a book and find titles and authors that are similar, which is a great way to keep kids reading! Bonus: There’s also a Novelist site for adults!
Tumblebooks: If you want to mix up your family’s selections to include e-books, this is a great site that includes a collection of animated, talking picture books. The site features e-books that can be read on their own and also a read-along section where you can press play and listen to the story being read as the highlighted text moves along with it!
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Aside from all of the programming and online resources mentioned above, our MCPL staff is ready and willing to help children and families anytime, whether it’s finding a book about dragons or helping parents find books that are appropriate for a child’s reading level and much more! We’re all for families reading together and gaining literacy skills together.
Take some time in November to celebrate National Family Literacy Month in any way you want, and we’re happy to help if we can!
Library Specialist | Marathon County Public Library
Chad Dally is a library specialist with the Marathon County Public Library, where he’s worked since 2012. He splits his time at the library between reference and programming, and generally prefers to read nonfiction over fiction. Email Chad Dally
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