Each week, the Christian County Library youth services staff hosts five story times across the county, including one in Nixa, one in Clever, and three at the library in Ozark. They also visit half a dozen or more child care centers and preschools in the county each week to share stories with children and their care providers.
Gabby Gomez and her daughter Camila, who is three, have been attending library story times for about two years. Gomez says she likes that the story times have a lot of variety. “It’s a little of everything. She likes to dance, and they get up and dance between stories.”
Christian County Library plans each story time around Racing to Read, an early literacy initiative designed by the Springfield-Greene County Library district and later adopted by the Missouri Secretary of State’s Office. It’s based on five "roads to reading": love books, play with letters, sing and rhyme, talk and read, and tell stories. Library story times teach parents and caregivers fun ways to bring these essential types of interaction with their children into their everyday lives.
Gomez has seen an impact on Camilla in the time they’ve been attending story times together, and she’s made some changes in how she interacts with her children as well. “I learned that teaching reading is not just sitting down and working with them, but pointing out letters and words when we’re out, like in the grocery store.” This is one of the five roads to reading, play with letters, in action. She also says Camilla is learning to follow directions and sit and listen at story time.
Sitting still isn’t required for story time attendees, though. Dana Roberts, the library’s Youth Services Manager, says one of the most important roads to reading is to love books, and part of that is enjoying the learning experience. Roberts says: “In story time, you might see some children running around, but they can still hear the story. They’re having fun and enjoying the experience. They’re learning to love learning and love books. What this will look like when they go to school is a child who has attended library story time as a baby, toddler and preschooler will have positive associations with the experience of learning and reading, as well as a leg up on print and vocabulary recognition.”
A new study published last fall in "Library Quarterly: Information, Community, Policy" offers some compelling evidence of the impact of library early literacy programs on the children who attend them. After using reliable observation tools to collect data on 1,440 children at 120 public library story times, the study’s authors concluded that children who attended did, in fact, exhibit "many types of early literacy behaviors.”
That has certainly been the case for three-year-old Camila, whose mother has watched her begin to recognize letters in sensory bins and letter-stamping games, and enjoyed Camila telling stories by manipulating felt characters on a board, all during Christian County Library story times.