March 30, 2015

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About Renea Arnold and Nell Colburn

Renea Arnold is coordinator of early childhood resources for the Multnomah County Library in Portland, OR. Nell Colburn is one of MCL’s early childhood librarians.

The Pleasure Principle: Children (and grown-ups) tend to do what’s most fun | First Steps


First Steps began almost nine years ago, in February of 2004. Our first column was about the importance of having fun, because we believed that fun was a key element in any discussion of early literacy. We still do. Learning to read isn’t easy. It’s hard work, and children need to be motivated to put forth the effort. Like adults, they’re inclined to do what’s most enjoyable for them.

As 2013 approaches, Nell is celebrating 40 […]

Why Offer Black Storytime? | First Steps

African American woman and child reading a book

Imagine that while interviewing for a library job you’re asked, “What would storytime specifically for African-American families look like to you?” That’s what happened to Kirby McCurtis. “I thought it was an especially interesting and challenging question,” says Kirby, who aced the interview and is now Multnomah County Library’s (MCL) newest African-American librarian. “It stayed with me even after the second interview. Now that I am working here, I have the opportunity to answer it every Saturday. It’s very exciting!”

The Neglected Ones: Children of undocumented immigrants seldom receive the services they need | First Steps

These days the news is full of polarizing stories about undocumented immigrants. Rarely do we hear about the 4.5 million children born each year in the United States to undocumented immigrant parents.

Mind Readers: Thinking Out Loud Can Raise Children’s Comprehension Skills | First Steps

It’s toddler storytime: let the rumpus begin! Toddlers bound quickly into the room. One hurdles mom’s legs while waiting for the opening song. Some hop, others roam, and a few practically climb our unflappable colleague Janie. Even after getting most of their wiggles out, many toddlers continue to float around the room—until Janie begins to read one of her favorite books, Owl Babies (Candlewick, 1996) by Martin Waddell.

Give Them a Big Hand: Puppets are great motivators for children who are learning to read

One of the most surprising early literacy questions we’ve encountered is about puppets. It came from a youth librarian whose director insisted that he couldn’t see how using puppets “has any value whatsoever, as far as early literacy is concerned.” “What can I tell him?” she asked us.

Oh, my. Where to start?

Print motivation, most likely. What motivates children more than having fun? Puppets are nothing if not fun. A puppet sharing a story enchants a preschool […]

A Running Start: We’re excited about the latest programs for very young learners | First Steps

It’s good to begin the New Year with enthusiasm. Here at Multnomah County Library we’re excited about several things. First, and perhaps most importantly, we’re looking forward to being successful at the ballot box in May, when primary voters will be asked to renew the bulk of our funding. Fortunately, the library is well-regarded in the Portland, OR, community, and we’re likely to secure the support we need.

We’re also excited about rolling out the new “Every Child […]

It’s Never Too Early: Parents should talk to their young ones long before they can speak | First Steps

The young woman sitting alone near the front of the MAX train car was speaking passionately, presumably to a friend on a cellphone. Nothing new—we overhear all sorts of conversations these days. But then, unexpectedly, she lifted a blue bundle to her face, and it became clear that she was talking to her infant son. Some assumptions, thankfully, are so wrong.

Somewhere, she had learned how important it is to talk to […]

Ready, Set, Go! Storytime Can Help Children (and Parents) Become Kindergarten-ready. | First Steps

On these early autumn days, in communities big and small, kindergarteners are stuffing backpacks with colored markers, glue sticks, tissues, and sometimes a favorite book or stuffed animal. Getting ready to start school requires so much preparation that it often eats up the last few weeks of summer. But as we know, preparing for kindergarten entails a lot more than one month of gathering supplies and buying new shoes.

What should young children know going into kindergarten? How to share and […]

Model Behavior: Children (and Adults) Often Learn Best by Seeing and Doing | First Steps

Children (and adults) often learn best by seeing and doing

Watching our Commander-in-Chief read Where the Wild Things Are (HarperCollins, 1964) at the White House Easter Egg Roll gave us chills, even though we had to experience it vicariously on YouTube. We had often heard the new president suggest to parents that they “turn off the TV and read to your child.” Now he was modeling just how to do that. And he did a pretty darn good job of it.

Modeling […]

Something to Smile About: A Statewide Early Literacy Program Is Making a Big Difference | First Steps

As our communities face serious economic challenges, it’s easy to focus solely on the dire news of the day: dwindling budgets, programs at risk. So, now more than ever, it’s important to appreciate the work that energizes us and gives us hope. Here in Oregon one such program is our new statewide training project to increase early childhood literacy skills.

In 2008, after many years of planning and securing funds, Reading for Healthy Families: Building Communities of Learning was launched in […]

It’s Showtime! | First Steps

There’s one preschool program that parents can’t resist

Our colleague Yvonne has two passions—storytelling and young children. Meeting with 20 children twice a week for a month, Yvonne transforms a classroom of children into a theatrical troupe performing such favorites as Swimmy by Leo Lionni and Brown Bear, Brown Bear by Bill Martin Jr.

During the fun of performing a favorite book, children’s early literacy skills—especially their narrative skills, vocabulary, and print motivation—are strengthened. Yvonne’s teeny tiny theater is the nearly perfect […]

A Little DAP Will Do Ya | First Steps

An often ignored concept is the key to successful programming

Best practice to a youth librarian is using lots of songs in storytimes for babies and repeating them each week. Best practice is choosing books about trucks and teddy bears for two-year-olds. The early childhood educators among us would be more precise: they would call these strategies developmentally appropriate practice.

One of the most important ingredients of successful library programming for young children has not been discussed thoroughly in library literature. The […]

Play It Again | First Steps

Play produces children who are emotionally healthy and ready for school

A quote from George Bernard Shaw hangs in our office, guiding our daily interactions: “We don’t quit playing because we grow old; we grow old because we quit playing.”

These days, we feel a strong need to defend playtime for children, too. According to Howard Chudacoff, a cultural historian at Brown University, today’s children have less time to play than children of previous generations. With the increased emphasis on academics and […]

Sweet Treats | First Steps

Poems can create a lifelong love of language in youngsters

“The first sound a child hears is actually a poem, the rhythmic, rhyming beat-beat-beat of a mother’s heart,” writes Jim Trelease in his introduction to Jack Prelutsky’s classic anthology, Read-Aloud Rhymes for the Very Young (Knopf, 1986). Trelease, the author of The Read-Aloud Handbook: Sixth Edition (Penguin, 2006), adds that this early experience “sets the stage for a natural and lifelong love of rhythm and rhyme… demonstrated by the ease with […]

You’ve Gotta Have Heart | First Steps

A baby’s emotional development is more important than many folks think

“Can I play too?” Undeniably, a toddler who can approach friends and ask this sophisticated question is well on his way to kindergarten readiness. As it turns out, children who know how to ask for what they want, get along with others, stay calm when faced with frustration, persist when facing difficult tasks, and negotiate for toys or personal space are developing the social and emotional skills they’ll need to […]

True Stories | First Steps

It’s never too early to introduce preschoolers to great nonfiction

Certainly one of the most common words in a preschooler’s vocabulary is “why.” Once they get past the “no” stage, it’s probably the word that trips up adults most often. Just how do we explain why the sky is blue?

Those of us who spend our days surrounded by topnotch children’s books know something that many parents and caregivers haven’t caught onto yet—the treasure trove of information found in nonfiction books for […]

The Gift That Keeps on Giving, Storytime | First Steps

Sharing great storytime ideas is inspirational and infectious

We love it when we find email messages like this in our inboxes: “I just used a great book in storytime, Snog the Frog by Tony Bonning, and it was a HUGE hit. We talked about vocabulary (majestic, pucker, and most definitely snog), print awareness (hoppity hoppity hoppity hop is noticeable in terms of space and font shape/size), phonological awareness (again with the hoppities), and rhyming sentences like ‘Who? You? Moo! No! Now […]

Read to Me! Summer Reading for Preschoolers | First Steps

Summer reading programs are now catering to the preschool set

Summer reading in libraries all over the country originated as a vacation-time activity for school-aged children. Now many libraries are extending the fun to the preschool crowd as well. "It’s never too early for books" is a message we share with parents year-round. So why not emphasize it in our summer reading materials, too?

At Multnomah County Library, we’ve added a new prize to our summer reading treasure chest: onesies with the […]

¿Habla Inglés? | First Steps

To learn a second language, a child needs to really know his first one

“My three-year-old doesn’t watch much television,” a Spanish-speaking parent recently said. “My friends say that’s why he’s not learning English—because he doesn’t watch enough TV. Is that true?”

Obviously, the mother’s question was motivated by her desire to help her child. But if you’re like us, you may have to restrain yourself from shouting, “No!” Having an immediate, research-based answer to parents’ questions is a challenge for […]

The Perfect Partner | First Steps

Head Start is an ideal ally for promoting early literacy

Extending public library service to children who are struggling to become literate isn’t always easy. One of the best strategies we’ve found is to partner with organizations that make it their business to target at-risk families. Head Start has been one of our most effective partners.

Its staff are enthusiastic about books, reading, and libraries. Parent education is an important part of its mission. Most Head Start sites have dedicated time for […]