NELA 2019: Challenging Expectations Together

The New England Library Association annual conference (#NELA2019) was in Mystic, CT this year. I went for just one of the three days, presenting one session and attending three others. (I also lucked out in the exhibit hall, picking up three galleys I’m really excited about, plus a pair of socks.)

Feeling Pot-lucky? Library Cookbook Clubs (9am)

I presented on this topic with Theresa Maturevich and Lilly Sundell-Thomas; our slides are here: NELA 2019 Feeling Potluck-y

What’s Play Got to Do With It? Every Child Ready to Read in Action, Andrea Grant, Deborah Morrissey, and Marty Mason, Chelmsford Public Library (11:15am)

Three youth services librarians from Chelmsford, MA talked about the Playspace program they’d developed, inspired by the launch of the second edition of Every Child Ready to Read (ECRR) at PLA in 2012. Playspace, as the program name indicates, focuses most on play, though it also includes reading (one story), singing, and talking (and play includes some fine-motor pre-writing skills).

ECRR is to educate parents and caregivers to help nurture pre-reading skills at home: reading, writing, singing, talking, and playing. The importance of play for young children is well documented, and the audience brainstormed some of its benefits: fun, builds social-emotional skills, fine/gross motor, imagination, exploration, bonding between adult/child. Children’s natural instinct is to play; with Playspace, they set up the environment for that. It is designed for the two- to three-year-old age group. (Older and younger kids are welcome, but “don’t complain” if you’re not in the target age group (“We don’t actually say that”)).

The basic outline of the program is:

  • Start with a song (“The more we play together” with ASL)
  • Read a story
  • Offer activities related to that story
  • Use each story twice (two weeks in a row)
  • Related craft
  • Closing activity

In order to encourage reading and play at home every day, the librarians use low-cost, simple, easy-to-replicate-at-home activities (e.g. make a cave by draping a tablecloth over table or chair and put a stuffed bear in there; use painters tape to make a path/maze on the floor; fill a bin with soapy water and plastic animals, whisks, and spoons, etc.). All of their activity sheets are available on the library website!

large poster with colored post-its

The librarians plan a Playspace by:

  1. Choosing a story
  2. Brainstorming appropriate themes
  3. Brainstorming activities related to the story/theme

They try to offer activities in each of the different developmental areas (gross motor, fine motor, art, sensory/sciences, drama, felt board, literacy), though they acknowledged that not every book lends itself to all of these areas equally. During the session, everyone in the audience got some sticky notes and helped plan a Playspace around “Goldilocks and the Three Bears.”

The Playspace program is offered weekly (there are two 14-week sessions in fall/winter/spring) in a large room and lasts for about an hour. It’s a drop-in program (no registration) and they usually get about 45 people (grown-ups and kids).

Starting from the Ground Up: How to Promote Civic Engagement & Inform Teen Voters, Charlie Gluck, Youth Services, Boston Public Library (2pm)

Charlie (who presented at MLA in 2018 on “The Role of Fantasy in the Library”) did a ton of research for this session on informing teen voters and future teen voters about the voter registration process and (to a lesser extent) how to learn about candidates and issues, especially on the local level. Each state in New England has slightly different rules about when people can register to vote, but all of them allow pre-registration (before you turn 18). The Secretary of State’s website should be the most helpful place to start to learn the rules for your state (if you’re a Massachusetts resident, it’s here).

Charlie is part of YALSA’s 22×20 Task Force, which recognizes that there will be 22 million new voters eligible to vote in the 2020 elections (since 2016), and is intent on helping them become active, informed voters.

While of course we cannot be partisan in a public library – most of this session’s attendees were public librarians – we can encourage people (including teens) to vote. Libraries are meant to promote civic engagement and democracy; “Libraries are democratic institutions first and foremost.” We can have sample ballots, make displays or handouts about how to register and when the deadlines are (and the number to call if you’re turned away at the polls). We can partner with other organizations (such as high school political science classes, model UN and student government, teen advisory group/boards, NHS, student/community groups that serve diverse or underserved populations such as GSA, BSA, and ESL groups, local transportation or school transportation systems).

Do's and Don'ts on Voting Day slide
Do’s and Don’ts on Voting Day

Charlie also encouraged outreach to specific underserved populations, like those in juvenile detention centers or those without a fixed address. For the teens that you do see regularly in the library, ask if they have a birthday coming up – and if they’ve registered to vote yet. And while she acknowledged that teens might not flock to a program called “know your voting rights,” she suggested making it part of an “Adulting Decathlon,” where they could learn a little bit about several different necessary life skills.

Sparkin’ a Love of Literacy: 1st and 2nd grade literacy programs at Newton Free Library, Lisa Norcross and Sandra Leifeld, Newton Free Library (3:45pm)

Lisa and Sandra talked about two programs they run together at Newton, Book Bunch and Write Stuff. Both programs were born in response to interest from parents. Book Bunch is a book discussion program exploring different genres by reading, discussing, and follow-up activities for first- and second-graders and their caregivers. It meets monthly from September-January and February-June; a second group was added during each session to meet demand.

The first Book Bunch title of the session is usually an early reader (e.g. Mouse and Mole by Wong Herbert Yee). At the first meeting, they discuss what’s on the cover: the title, author, and illustrator. Follow-up activities are as varied as the books themselves, and have included a pajama party, making stone soup, popcorn and “movie” (a Cece Bell video), made and wrote their own books, used typewriters, and talked to authors and publishers in person or via Skype.

What works, what doesn’t? The level of the book is important; some 1st graders are reading 1st grade books comfortably, while some 2nd graders may be reading 6th grade books. For Book Bunch, they don’t choose books beyond beginning chapter books – and of course, there have to be enough copies in the system. Librarians come prepared with questions to discuss, but kids are welcome to bring questions too. And “If you don’t/can’t read the whole book, that’s okay – that’s why we have the discussion.”

Rocket Writes A StoryWrite Stuff is for second graders and their caregivers; the program covers writing basics and story structure. Two five-month sessions run during the school year, and at meetings, participants share stories and build vocabulary through mini-lessons, writing time, and sharing time.

There are six guidelines/things to remember in the group:

  1. Everyone is learning and at their own level
  2. Do your best
  3. Be creative
  4. Everyone shares (in small or whole group)
  5. Respectful and constructive feedback to help each other
  6. One conversation at a time

The librarians prepare a folder for each kid including a schedule, writing paper, final edit paper (with “airplane line” like they use at school, glossary of Words to Know (e.g. dialogue, fiction, nonfiction, characters – with pictures, good for ELL), and Word Wall ideas (the Word Wall is a collaborative project; all participants can add to it throughout the program, to share their expanding vocabulary).

How This Book Was MadeEach meeting is one hour, and starts with reading a story aloud. The first and last book are always the same (Rocket Writes A Story and How This Book Was Made), but they use different ones for the three middle sessions. Then there is a writing prompt and an activity. The final product is a finished book, including a story (fiction or nonfiction) from each participant, including a beginning, middle, end, and “about the author.” The librarians make copies of the book at the town printer, so everyone gets one to keep, and the kids also get a journal and a pencil at the end of the program to continue their writing.

Lisa and Sandra also mentioned “Story Time From Space,” which puts an interstellar twist on traditional story time.

And that was my day at NELA 2019. If you went to different Monday sessions, or attended on Sunday or Tuesday, I’d love to hear about the highlights! Fewer people were on Twitter than usual, but again, the hashtag was #NELA2019. And now, I’m off to read my ARC of The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern!

 

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