Stepping Stones to Milestones: Empowering parents to be their child’s first teacher
When new parents had two minutes to share a book with their child during The Library’s popular Born to Read program, many were unsure how to start.
But after parents learned different educational approaches and the whys and hows of child development, Born to Read teacher Mary Ann McGovern saw the difference by week two.
“They read to their child and pointed out the pictures,” says McGovern, a part-time youth services specialist. “Sometimes, the baby will stay with the mom or grandma even when we bring out toys. Having that bonding time connects them just as much as playing together.”
The Library’s team looked at how they could support parents even more and developed “Stepping Stones to Milestones.’’ The program adds activities that parents can do at home, with explanations of how they promote development in the crucial early years of life.
“We designed it to help parents and caregivers be that first teacher for their child to get them ready for kindergarten,” says Youth Services Manager Hannah Killian. “We want people to think of storytimes as a place to go for learning, and to take those things we do in storytime and continue that learning at home.”
Guided by research into parental involvement and benchmarks in child development, Stepping Stones to Milestones is preparing to reach families who attend The Library’s Born to Read for infants up to 18 months old, Toddler Storytimes for children 19 to 35 months, and Preschool Storytimes for children 3 to 5 years old.
A focus group of storytime parents informed The Library’s staff that parents want confidence boosters, such as more visuals and take-home materials. (During the COVID-19 lockdown, Born to Read and Storytimes are on Facebook, @dcls.pa, Children’s Programs group).
Under Stepping Stones to Milestones, Born to Read parents get rhymes, songs, and things to talk about with baby, all printed on cards that can go in a binder ring for quick reference. For parents of toddlers, the informational takeaways they receive are enhanced with the lyrics to songs sung or titles of books read.
Teachers model and explain why they’re doing such things as tapping out the syllables of a child’s name or teaching the sign language for “book.” When McGovern leads parents in lifting their babies “up, up, up” or “forward, forward, forward,” babies associate the movement with a new word in their vocabularies.
“You don’t just come to the library, do it there, and then forget it,” says McGovern, a veteran preschool teacher. “These are lessons you can take home to enrich your child’s life and hopefully increase their attention span. They’re listening.”
While the COVID-19 shutdown halted all in-person activities, Library staff incorporated Stepping Stones principles into their online storytimes. In a Born to Read session Killian taped at home, she talked briefly about the importance of singing and linked to an article from the National Association for the Education of Young Children on “10 Ways Babies Learn When We Sing to Them.”
“Parents really believe in what The Library is doing for their children, and that starts the love of reading for life,” McGovern says. “There’s so much children can learn, in such a lovely way, and in such a happy way.”
Extending the benefits of storytimes into homes dovetails with The Library’s mission to serve as a champion of literacy and learning, says Dauphin County Library System Executive Director Karen Cullings.
“Many parents think they need special skills to be their child’s first and most important teacher,” Cullings says.
“We’re doing our part, with many other early childhood education providers throughout the county, to empower parents,’’ Cullings says. “Stepping Stones to Milestones gives them some simple tools they can use every day, helping their children grow in readiness for kindergarten and school success.”