Today’s post is the first in All Our Kin’s “Reading with Providers” series about how the family child care providers in our network promote literacy in their programs.
A little over a month ago, the American Academy of Pediatrics announced that pediatricians will begin telling parents to read aloud to their children from birth onward. The announcement comes in the wake of years of research showing that reading to children helps promote brain development and builds vocabularies. Although parents are babies’ first teachers, All Our Kin recognizes that child care providers can also play a vital role in creating strong literacy foundations early on. Our programs (like Read, Count, Grow, a program that supports early literacy and numeracy development) give providers resources and guidance to lay a strong foundation for children’s success in school and life.
Melissa Rivera, one of the providers in our network, is constantly thinking of new ways to introduce the wonders of reading to the children at her family child care program, Grandpa’s Family Daycare. “Everything is in letters,” she laughs. “We cut apples into the shape of letters with cookie cutters. We sing songs about letters.” The children in her program are still young – most are under age 3 – but they are developing important pre-literacy skills and are learning to recognize letters, especially the first letters in their names.
“Every day we do Circle Time,” Melissa tells me. “Each child grabs a book and brings it over to the circle, and we sit together and read. I read each book out loud with them and we look at all of the pictures. Sometimes there’s a song or a dance that we do to go along with the book. We do sign language, too – if we’re reading a book about animals, I show them the signs for each animal and we do the sign language together.” When the weather is nice, they bring the books outside and read them in the grass. “I have a book about birds that we always bring outside. As we read it, we see if we can find any birds in the trees.”
Melissa’s home is full of books, and the first thing that jumps out at me is that they are all within a young child’s reach. A child can pick a book and look at the pictures by herself, or bring it to Melissa, Melissa’s program assistant, or one of the other children to read it together.
When I ask Melissa if the kids have a favorite book, she immediately tells me that they all love Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See, the classic picture book written by Bill Martin Jr. and illustrated by Eric Carle. The book introduces a new animal on every page, and Melissa has helped the children create and hang large, colorful posters of each animal on the walls. Every time they read Brown Bear, they point to the animal posters and say the animal’s names in English, Spanish, and sign language. Goodnight Moon (written by Margaret Wise Brown and illustrated by Clement Hurd), and The Napping House (written by Audrey Wood and illustrated by Don Wood) are also popular choices.
Melissa’s personal favorite? From Head to Toe, by Eric Carle. “I love to move, I’m always moving,” she explains. “With From Head to Toe, you get the kids standing up, moving the different parts of their bodies and learning their names in different languages.”
Melissa has learned useful strategies for promoting literacy from All Our Kin programs, such as using props to make reading more interactive and connect books to a child’s wider world. “The kids love props – every time we pick out a book, one of them will run to get the prop that goes with it. We have this little glove prop with detachable monkeys for when we read Five Little Monkeys Jumping on the Bed and a stuffed caterpillar for The Very Hungry Caterpillar.”
Because Melissa is part of All Our Kin’s Early Head Start initiative, she is able to provide free quality child care to eligible low-income families in New Haven. In addition to the other resources and support services that providers in All Our Kin’s network receive, EHS providers have access to individualized mentoring and training from All Our Kin staff, including regular visits from a nurse consultant and a family advocate. The lessons that Melissa learns from All Our Kin are reinforced by other programs like the Mornings at the Museum program (which we profiled earlier this month) run by All Our Kin’s community partners at the Connecticut Children’s Museum.
Many of the books at Grandpa’s Family Daycare came from All Our Kin. “I got so many books at the beginning from the Toolkit boxes,” Melissa says. “And Nancy [one of All Our Kin’s Educational Consultants] always brings books that I don’t have already so that the kids get something new. Sara [All Our Kin’s Early Head Start Nurse Consultant] brings books about the body when she comes, too.”
Melissa’s commitment to helping her kids gain critical pre-literacy and literacy skills is paying off. The children in Melissa’s program go to the bookshelves first thing after they wake up from a nap and pick out books. “They love to read,” Melissa says.
Come back on Friday to learn about how provider Rosella Herrera helps the children in her program, Virgen de Guadalupe Home Day Care, develop literacy skills.