“The most exciting time for a kindergarten teacher is when a kid looks up and says, ‘Hey, I can read!’” This is my favorite line from a conversation between two educators at the daylong “Fostering Lifelong Learners” event held April 25 at the Cambridge (MA) Public Library. The speaker, Jim St. Claire, a 39-year veteran of the classroom, teaches at the Amigos School in Cambridge, a dual-language immersion program. His counterpart on the stage was Anne Mackay; with 13 years under her belt, she’s a lower school reading specialist at nearby Buckingham Browne & Nichols School. The two shared many insights to apply in working with babies and toddlers.
The day itself was structured to reflect the partnerships needed to give wee ones and their caregivers what they need to arrive at that “aha!” moment. It was organized by SLJ’s sister publication, The Horn Book, in collaboration with the Cambridge Public Library, and Reach Out and Read, a nonprofit that integrates early literacy training into pediatric examinations. The goal of the event, sponsored by Penguin, DK, Junior Library Guild, and Charlesbridge, was to foster early learning—be it in the library, the doctor’s office, at daycare, or at home.
Mackay, for her part, noted the need to build the ability to hear the sounds in words—calling that the “biggest predictor of reading later in life.” She also stressed teaching early print concepts, comprehension of plot, and the development of writing skills. “Encourage parents to get rid of markers,” she said. Instead, use chalk, on the blackboard or sidewalk, as it gives “a ton of feedback” and “really works fine motor skills.”
Technology, too, has its place. “Kids can get a sense of mastery if they know more than the teacher,” said St. Claire, “but we have to be aware of the kids who don’t have tech.” Mackay acknowledged that the digital age has changed many things, not all for the worse, adding, “there are lots of good apps.”
Meanwhile, we at SLJ were developing this special issue dedicated to early learning. I was excited to see so many of the themes of the Lifelong Learners event dovetail with what we were planning. From the essential tastiness of board books (“Built to Last,” p. 28) and the tactile pleasure of play at Brooklyn Public Library (“Read, Play, Grow,” p. 24) to the thoughtful development of apps at Sesame Workshop (“The Early Bird,” p. 18), may the ideas presented here inspire you toward achieving your own “aha” moment in your work with the youngest among us.
SLJ’s new look
Print readers will see a few changes in the magazine this month. They derived, in part, from our migration to the K4 cross-media publishing platform and WordPress content management system. This issue was produced via K4, which will enable us to be more nimble across print, e-newsletters, and the Web.
A migration like this inspires an evaluation of what we do, where, and why. For SLJ, it meant a reconsideration of aspects of the all-important reviews section. A small fix: book titles are enhanced to be more readable. A pragmatic but difficult decision: we will no longer produce the review index, which had appeared in each issue. We recognize the value of this index, especially to researchers, but now offer the BookVerdict database of reviews to subscribers as an alternate way to find SLJ reviews. A vast improvement: fiction and nonfiction now have their own sections, with more specific grade-level groupings.
Faced with creating new templates, our creative director, Mark Tuchman, seized the opportunity to update the look and feel of the magazine with new colors and tweaks to the layouts of everything from the contributors’ page to the stars page. We hope you approve.
Rebecca T. Miller