Sunday, August 8, 2010

Helping Parents Become Strong Language and Literacy Partners (Berg)

Michele Berg, Ph.D. contributed the following post. Michele is the Director of the Center for Learning Disorders at the Family Service and Guidance Center in Topeka, Kansas (visit FSGC). Dr. Berg formerly founded and directed the Center for Learning Disabilities at the Menninger Clinic and served on the faculty of the Karl Menninger School of Psychiatry for over twenty years. She specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of complex learning disorders in children and adults and is a frequently invited presenter on the topics of early literacy development, dyslexia, memory disorders, nonverbal learning disorder, and ADHD at the state and national level. She served as the head of professional development for two Early Reading First grants and is a consultant to the FSGC Early Childhood Intervention Program.

When Susan asked me to write something for her awesome Vocabulogic site, I thought I would address preschool language and literacy interventions; however, Christie Cavanaugh provided such a wonderful and thorough piece on this topic that I decided to do an “infomercial” for a powerful program available through the American Library Association. And … if you have not yet read Part I and Part II of Dr. Cavanaugh’s post, I urge you to do so! 

EVERY CHILD READY TO READ @ your library is a joint project of the Public Library Association and the Association for Library Service to Children. A series of parent and caregiver workshops have been developed to help prepare parents for their critical role as their child’s first teacher; these workshops are offered by community libraries using resources incorporating the latest research. Drs. Grover C. Whitehurst and Christopher Lonigan, eminent researchers in early literacy, developed the ECRR curriculum and workshop tools which have been refined by library demonstration projects around the country. All of the information presented in the workshops has been approved by NICHD. The workshops are also appropriate for early childhood educators, child advocates, and policy makers. Three different workshops target a range of developmental needs: Early Talkers targets ages 0 to 2 years; Talkers targets 2 to 3 year olds; and Pre-Readers addresses the needs of 4 to 5 year olds.

Visit the Site
The ECRR program was developed as an outreach program to help to address the national crisis in reading. Roughly, about 35% of children who enter kindergarten do not possess the early language skills necessary for learning to read (Waldorf, 1994). Children who struggle the most come from low income/low education families regardless of race or ethnicity. These families often do not have books, newspapers, or magazines at home and live in neighborhoods that do not contain much environmental print. One study found that 47% of parents receiving public aid reported no alphabet books in their home in contrast with only 3% of professional parents. Other studies suggest that children from middle to upper income families have anywhere from 1,000 to 1,700 hours of shared book time with a parent or caring adult during their preschool years as opposed to 25 hours or less in low income or low education families (Adams, 1990).

The lack of shared reading is alarming since reading books to children is the most effective way to build vocabulary … and strong vocabulary skills are necessary for reading comprehension. Typically, an adult will use only about 9 “rare” words per 1,000 words when speaking to a child under 5 years of age. Three times as many rare words are encountered in children’s books (Trelease, 2001). While regular family conversations will help build basic vocabulary, reading books to children helps them leap into the rare words that are essential when it’s time for school and formal learning.

As a culture that values school and views education as one of the major routes to job and financial stability, we need to help parents gain access to the skills, books and other resources needed to create language-rich experiences in their homes. We cannot afford to wait until at-risk children enter kindergarten to begin efforts to level the language playing field. Pre/post testing demonstrates that parents who attend ECRR at the Library workshops make huge gains in the quality of reading and language activities they provide their children. Parents with the lowest income and parents with the least education made the largest gains in terms of implementing new skills; teen-age parents and parents of very young children also demonstrated significant gains.

What do the workshops target? The workshop curriculum stresses Six Skills to Get Ready to Read: Print Motivation, Print Awareness, Vocabulary, Phonological Awareness, Narrative Skills, and Letter Knowledge. The emphasis is on simple, fun, developmentally appropriate ways to increase language skills and comfort with books in order to better prepare children for later success in school. Participants actively explore materials and practice new skills matched to the age of their child. A broad range of resources to be used at home are provided. Parents are taught how to select books to reinforce different skills such as phonological awareness, vocabulary, or narrative skill; they learn how to read picture books with two and three year olds and/or Dialogic Hear and Say strategies to use with preschool-age children. Simple songs paired with movement are introduced. Tip sheets are sent home as are colorful activity sheets.

Community agencies around the country are pairing with local libraries to make ECRR available. Many parents of low education or low income are not comfortable with literacy environments and may visit libraries only to access music and movies. For this reason, it may be best to offer the parent workshops at other sites such as Head Start, Salvation Army, community-based preschools, or church-affiliated child care and preschools. Parents as Teachers staff can also be trained to offer the ECRR workshops. The possibilities are many. Visit the American Library Association website for additional information. Call your local library and promote the availability of ECRR in your area. Let’s support this important early literacy initiative!

And please remember … the information presented and the skills learned in the ECRR workshops are beneficial and enjoyable for all adults involved in the care of young children regardless of income or education level … parents, grandparents, early childhood educators, child care providers, Sunday school teachers … I am sure you can think of more.

Note: This post  builds on prior entries pertaining to the invaluable relationship between libraries and literacy. Fran Mancino's post urges us to support public libraries and Susie Goodin's post illustrates the relationship between school libraries and reading motivation. 

Adams, M. 1990. Beginning to read: Thinking and learning about print. Cambridge, MA:MIT Press.

Birckmayer, J., Kennedy, A., & Stonehouse, A. eds. 2008. From lullabies to literature: Stories in the lives of infants and toddlers. Washington, DC: NAEYC.

Hall, S. & Moats, L., eds, 1998. Straight talk about reading: How parents can make a difference during the early years. Chicago: Contemporary Books.

Payne, A., Whitehurst, G. & Angell, A. 1994 The role of home literacy environment in the development of language ability in preschool children from low-income families. Early Childhood-Research Quarterly v.9, issues 3-4, p. 422-440.

Neuman, S.B. & Dickinson, D.K. eds, 2002. Handbook of early literature research.
NY: Guilford Press.

Teale, W.H. 1986. Contacts of literacy: What children learn from learning to read books. In Emergent literacy: Writing and reading. Norwood, NJ: Ablex.

Trelease, J. 2001. Read-aloud handbook. NY:Penguin, p.4.

Waldorf, M.D. 1994. Starting Points: Meeting the needs of our youngest children. Carnegie Foundation of New York.


  1. Mary Ann Grover8/08/2010

    Well now, I have been volunteering at my library for some years and yet had not heard of this program. It looks like something we need. First thing next week, I will discuss it with to the children's librarian. Thanks for the information.

  2. Kathleen Glen McDonald8/10/2010

    What a great program! I am surprised because I certainly cannot recall every hearing anything about Every Child Read to Read at Your Library. This website is a goldmine. Thank you.

  3. Anonymous9/12/2017

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