By Janet Ingraham Dwyer, Youth Services Library Consultant
I’m sharing notes from the sessions I attended at the 2012 Public Library Association Conference in Philadelphia last month, in hopes that this information will be useful to the youth services community and others.
An excellent program, A Wealth of Words: Helping Families Build Young Children’s Language and Literacy featured developmental psychologist and educator Betty Bardige (http://www.awealthofwords.com) and Kathleen Deere, national coordinator of Family Place Libraries.
Dr. Bardige discussed research on language development in children. Language develops in relationships and builds on children’s natural curiosity. Dr. Bardige noted that when parents teach babies signs, this speeds verbal language. Sign serves the same function as baby language (babble, “expressive jargon”) by allowing baby to “talk” to adult and to participate in two-way communication. She also cited a study that showed that parental talkativeness to babies accounted for all correlation that exists between socio-economic status/race and verbal intellectual developments (Risley & Hart, 2006).
Some additional notes from Dr. Bardige’s talk:
• “Business talk” or instruction does not include literacy-rich language/interaction, but “Play talk” makes the difference for language development – responsive, open-ended, encourages conversation and learning – provides an increasing advantage as children learn more words, have more opportunities to use their words, opportunities to talk with peers, ask more sophisticated questions of adults, learn words at a faster rate, etc.
• Several studies indicate that TV before age 2 is detrimental to language development
• Vocabulary at kindergarten entry predicted 10th grade proficiency (Dickinson & Tabors, 2001)
• Dual language learners go through the same developmental steps in both languages. Children with communication delays show the same patterns in both speakers.
Kathy Deere spoke about ways to encourage positive language-building interaction between parents and children. She shared a set of family-centered principles:
• Respect the importance of the family unit
• Treat parents as partners
• Facilitate parent-to-parent support
• Develop family friendly policies
• Outreach to families at risk, non-traditional and diverse audiences
• Build coalitions with family serving agencies – this helps reach families who are non-users
• Provide unbiased and complete information for families
Misconceptions about play include that it is messy, not goal-directed, not learning, and trivial. However, play is actually: freely chosen, personally directed, intrinsically motivated, fun. It is essential for children to reach developmental milestones
Some advice shared with attendees to support parents and children:
• Incorporate more parent-child interaction in library programs, model and give parents time to interact, provide open-ended toys/time, keep groups small.
• Enlist parent participation. This empowers parents and provides peer support. Involve dual-language parents to read non-English text, share cultural songs and stories, and reach out to the community.
• Engage with parents in the library. A helpful sequence includes: validate & welcome them; share a positive comment about the child; initiate informal conversation; assess responsiveness of parent; partner with parent in observing child (if welcomed); model how parent might join in child-directed activity (if welcomed); invite parent to bring child back anytime and share other opportunities they can do at the library
Librarians can take on new roles – from program presenter to modeler, engager and empowerer, facilitator of activities, and messenger on the importance of early experiences and vital role of the parents.
Handouts from this session are available for free download at http://placonference.org/programs.