Partners: Salmon School District Child Development Center, EICAP Head Start, Kids Creek Early Education Center, Adventure Academy Early Learning Center
Grant funds were used to support the work of a Kindergarten Readiness Coordinator, who provided a biweekly outreach program at local preschools focused on early literacy-STEM connections. In addition to the outreach program, the library added an enhanced storytime on Saturday mornings, targeting working parents; developed check-out kits for early learning providers with built-in curriculum; expanded early learning tools available for stay-and-play; and hosted collaborative family events with preschool partners throughout the year. While the onset of COVID-19 prevented the completion of some grant goals, the Coordinator spent time during the shut-down inventorying the children’s book collection and creating themed book lists to be made available to care providers and the general public (this project is still in progress), as well as hosting a twice-weekly virtual storytime that has since been commuted to storytime in the park. In addition, grant funds for events and outreach materials were redirected to developing a four-week series of take-home kits for pre-readers, each of which featured five themed activities aligned with the five early literacy practices. An 8-10 minute video accompanied each kit, including demonstrations and helpful tips for caregivers.
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- Preschool Visitation Model: Conducting regular outreach visits to preschool that include both storytime and activities has not only been a great way to build relationships with providers and children, but also to build our credibility as a provider of services and education to young children. The inclusion of activities allows for modeling of teaching strategies, demonstrates how library equipment can be integrated in the preschool environment and gives our often overwhelmed providers a chance to step back and reflect. It also broadens childrens associations with the library visit: it is not just a time where they must “sit down and be quiet for the visitor,” but where they get to engage their senses and discover new things. Planning and prepping these outreaches can be a big front-end investment, but as more partner sites are brought on board and the same activity can be facilitated with multiple groups of children, a larger impact is yielded from a fixed amount of prep time and the return on investment increases.
- Digital Documentation of Activities: It was a specific goal of our library to develop materials and strategies that would allow us to sustain grant activities after the grant period ended. A key piece of this was documenting every outreach activity, including the necessary materials, prep and a rough “script” or outline for the activity. We committed to making this a priority, even when timelines were tight; in the inevitable circumstance where there wasn’t enough time for an activity to be written up completely before it was facilitated, the write-up would be finished after the outreach cycle was over. In addition, facilitating the activities repeatedly at multiple sites allowed the Kindergarten Readiness Coordinator to reflect and tweak aspects of the activity between each visit, so these tweaks were always written into the documentation as well. Where possible, we extended this practice to one-off events and activities. All of this information will now live as a permanent resource for programs staff for future years.
- Clear Bags for Kits: This is a little thing but it makes a big difference! We’ve noticed how kids and parents respond differently to take-home and outreach materials that are distributed in clear bags. Even clear signage does not always get people’s attention but grabbing hands usually can’t resist ribbons or play-doh or craft materials they can clearly see in a bag. Subconsciously it seems that clear bags also signal to families that the item is there for them to take (same concept as open drawers and shelving).
I think we have profoundly expanded the community’s impression of the library as a provider of programs and resources for young children. In particular, we have seen an increase in the number and frequency of education and social service providers asking library staff for book recommendations, activity suggestions and physical resources to use with the children in their care. There is a distinct shift in the relationship with a provider when they begin reaching out to schedule outreach appointments, ask for resources or collaborate on projects – rather than it feeling like a one-way relationship where the library offers and we hope they say yes. The network of community contacts we’ve nurtured through this grant is a key piece of the infrastructure, in addition to the development of curriculum and other long-term resources, that should allow us to sustain the majority of these programs without (or with less) grant support because the time and energy needed to nurture those relationships, the knowledge of who to call for what and how to broach the subject (never underestimate in a small town) can now be put toward other things.
Relationship-building as an outreach strategy can be a double-edged sword. Particularly in a town such as ours, where social capital is critical and institutional trust is low, people often buy into a person before they buy into the organization where they come from. As the Kindergarten Readiness Coordinator, I am now the gatekeeper for our library’s relationship with many of our local care providers, children and parents in the same way that people who conducted outreach and kids programs before me often were. Similarly, I had to invest a lot of time and energy on earning providers’ trust, even though our library has a long history of collaborating with many of these organizations. I’m not sure what the answer is, but I think it is something on which libraries in communities of our size and/or with similar community cultures should critically reflect, and try to come up with solutions to address this issue that suit their unique needs. For us, one of the solutions we have looked at is training other staff members to conduct preschool programs and intentionally allowing them to fill in, not just as a substitute, but on a more regular basis to get people used to another face. We did this with success with Saturday Story Hour; I facilitated the first five storytimes but had the same staff member attend several as a “helper,” then she facilitated a couple with me as a helper, and then we began to alternate weeks.
Our greatest challenge remains engaging with our under-the-radar, in-home, not-necessarily-certified care providers in our community; who in turn serve many of our community’s most difficult to reach children. As Kindergarten Readiness Coordinator, I spent time during the grant period reaching out to individuals who I knew provided daycare out of their homes; it was my goal to begin visiting these locations on at least a monthly basis. As of mid-March, when our outreach program shut down, I had not succeeded. One provider with whom I successfully established a relationship cancelled on me four times. We’ve discussed the possibility that in-home providers may fear judgement or backlash from inviting a third-party provider into their space, similar to how certain parents worry about being unwelcome at storytime and other programs. This is a notion that takes time and hard work to challenge. One idea that we are considering in the future is expanding our focus from in-home providers to simply scheduling in-home outreach with parents willing to host in their yard, with their own children and a few of their children’s friends. This might allow us to reach and build trust with families who do not typically see the library as “their” space, provided we can identify the right person to bridge that gap in the first place.
- Tracking number and attendance for all outreach and in-house programs
- Tracking circulation of early education check-out kits
- Tracking number of materials distributed for distribution programs
- Parent surveys stapled to take-home packets
- Mid-year and end-of-year survey for preschool providers participating in the outreach program
- Direct feedback from patrons
Some key findings:
- On mid-year and end-of-year surveys, preschool providers in the outreach program consistently “agreed” or “strongly agreed” the outreach program: helped their students develop early literacy skills; helped students to make connections between what they read and the world around them; and increased students’ awareness of and interest in the library.
- On mid-year and end-of-year surveys, preschool providers in the outreach program consistently “agreed” or “strongly agreed” the outreach program gave them ideas for activities they can do with their students and increased their awareness of books and educational resources available at the library.
- 50 total Kindergarten Readiness bags distributed to Fall 2020 incoming kindergartners (see photo, right)
- 44 total outreach visits to 5 early learning centers, serving a total of 65 unique children, aged 3-5
- 258 take-home Family Activity Kits distributed over four weeks to families with children aged 2-6 (every kit made was taken), reaching an estimated 90-100 unique children
- 17 total Saturday Storytimes with peak attendance of 8 families / 14 kids
- 27 archived virtual storytime videos that are available publicly on our Youtube channel and Facebook page whenever families need
- 50 families and 8 local partners attended Preschool Outreach & Family Fun day co-hosted with Head Start Preschool