When libraries were closed as part of the spring lockdown measure to fight COVID-19, the preschool staff at Strathcona County Library knew that they had to find a way to continue their valuable work helping some of the County’s littlest residents develop early literacy skills. Before long, the library was producing pre-recorded videos and posting them to YouTube. But staff still felt that something was missing: a communication process dubbed “serve and return” that’s part of early literacy work. When a baby or child cries, gestures or babbles, it is a “serve” to an adult, who “returns” the interaction by talking, smiling, gesturing and more. Serve and return interactions help shape a baby’s brain.
The solution was to switch back over to live programming, hosted on Zoom. The library currently hosts four live storytime programs each week and all are running at capacity.
Early Literacy librarian Nicole Van Den Berg notes that there are five core practices that enable young children to become readers and writers: talking, singing, writing, reading and playing. “Our job is to expose them to those five practices,” she says, noting that a Zoom storytime will typically incorporate a few minutes of each.
Feedback from the community has been amazing, Nicole adds. “We’ve heard from families that tuned in while they were out camping this summer, and from ESL parents who find the Zoom storytimes less intimidating than other English as a Second Language group activities. Some of our most touching comments came from parents who were feeling completely overwhelmed amidst everything that’s happened this year and were overjoyed to be able to participate without having to drive to the library.”
The response to online storytimes has been so positive that they may remain a permanent programming option for the library, once life returns to normal. “To our surprise,” Nicole says, “a lot of parents are saying ‘We can’t wait to come back to the library in person – but we hope you never stop doing virtual programming.” Interested in tuning in to Zoom storytimes? Check out the library’s programming calendar at sclibrary.ca/calendar.
Pictured: Alyssa Woodcox during a Zoom Baby Laptime program and Kaylin Schulz hosting a Zoom Family Storytime.