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May 28, 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

Covers

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 […]

When Trauma Hits Home: Did you know that infants are the largest single group of victims? | First Steps

One of the most startling things we learned this year is that 48.6 percent of trauma victims in our state of Oregon are younger than six years old. And infants make up the largest single group of victims. These children may experience violence at home or within their neighborhoods; they may face separation from a parent or caregiver because of divorce, death, incarceration, or even military deployment.

We were attending a training session […]

Get Ready, Get Set… | First Steps

In a perfect world, every child would enter kindergarten happy, healthy, and eager to learn. They’d run into their classrooms anxious to see friends and already in love with their teachers. But it’s not quite a perfect world here in Portland, OR. A large percentage of our children of color and those from low-income families aren’t ready to learn when they enter the Portland Public Schools (PPS). A recent study found that […]

The Power of Words | First Steps

How librarians can help close the vocabulary gap

We’ve never forgotten a story that Micki Freeny, coordinator of youth services at the District of Columbia Public Library, told us about her daughter. Kyle was four years old when she asked a cashier if the mints on the restaurant counter were “complimentary.” “No dear,” replied the woman, “they’re free.” Kyle is now a Harvard-educated attorney who still enjoys meals out with her mom, and […]

A Happy Ending | First Steps

Outcomes-based evaluations help us define what we’re trying to accomplish

Spring is the time of year when we ask our early childhood community partners to help us measure the effectiveness of our outreach services or—said another way—evaluate the outcomes of our programs. Outcomes are what the participants will know or be able to do after participating in our programs. For example, one parent wrote, “I will be more patient when I read with my daughter. […]

Have You Heard the Word?: National Poetry Month is a great time to share the joy of poetry with children | First Steps

Our evening walks around Portland are even more delightful these days as more and more neighbors have added poetry posts to their yards. Poetry posts, you ask? They are simple wooden poles, kind of like a “For Sale” signpost, but with a see-through, covered box attached. Inside the box is a poem, often in multiple copies so that passersby may help themselves. We don’t know if poetry posts exist outside Portland, […]

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 […]

The Amazing Brain: Babies start learning to read the day they’re born | First Steps

How exactly does early brain development relate to reading? That’s what our clients want to know. Many of them aren’t interested in hearing about neurons and synapses, but they find the basic concepts of brain development fascinating. Here’s what we’ve come up with for our elevator speech.

Children start learning to read the day they’re born. That’s because reading is part of language development, and children begin learning language when they’re infants. Decades ago, when we started […]

Natural-Born Scientists: Children’s curiosity about the world begins at birth | First Steps

After seven months of inescapable rain here in Oregon, the warm sun has emerged and blossoms have burst forth. Nature’s reawakening leaves us wondering how the dogwoods and magnolias can triumph over the soggy soil. The physical world is a source of curiosity for many, and making sense of it is a lifelong challenge.

Children are born curious. Some more than others, but all are inclined to poke, prod, inspect, and inquire. Most ask tons of questions, beginning with the universal […]

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 […]