Learning to Like Mother Goose Scripts | First Steps

During early learning programs with patrons who speak Russian, Turkish, and other languages at home, handouts with the words to rhymes and songs become adult learning tools.
GooseScript_fI’ve been chanting "Itsy Bitsy Spider," baaing like a sheep, and sharing my favorite Mother Goose rhymes during early learning programs for the last 24 years—often without a script. While I created a detailed lesson plan of songs, rhymes, books, and finger plays for myself, I rarely handed out the words of the rhymes to participating caregivers. However, since starting my new position in November as Assistant Director (but Still Always a Children’s Librarian) at the Lindenhurst Memorial Library in Long Island, NY, staff have convinced me that sometimes, handing out a script can be a good thing. Why did I think the xeroxed papers were so bad? Twenty-four years ago, there were no cell phones or tablets invading storytime. It was just caregivers and adorable babies and toddlers. By putting a piece of paper in caregivers’ hands, I felt that: 1. They would focus too much on reading the words and miss the organic experience of the nursery rhyme session, and 2. They would not be focusing on the babe in the other hand. So I relied on the ploy of repeating rhymes early and often. (Plus, if I couldn’t remember the words to some esoteric nursery rhyme, why would I want to use it in a program?) I thought it was also important to share with caregivers that, the more they interacted and said the rhymes with me, the more inclined their little ones would be to watch and participate. I liked to remind them that we were hardwiring their baby’s brains for future learning! Fast forward to 2016, the era of electronic devices. At first, there was no need for me to give out any paper, because the babes were in one hand and the caregiver’s smartphone was often in the other—leaving no extra hand. At one library, I used to joke that I was going to run a “cell-phone challenge”: caregivers had to put their devices into a bucket at the start of the program. At Lindenhurst, though, it isn’t electronic devices preventing caregivers from fully participating, but a language barrier. Many who come to programs with their children are dual-language speakers—and the nursery rhymes that my parents shared with me are not the ones shared with 20.9 percent of my patrons as they were growing up, according to census data. Suddenly, I saw anxiety in the faces of the adults as I started singing "Mary Had a Little Lamb" or "Hey Diddle Diddle." They didn’t know the words. A librarian whose parents were born in Spain told me that it was often difficult to remember the words, because these were not the native rhymes and fingerplays of her youth. I realized how empowering the slip of paper could be. With patrons speaking Polish, Russian, and Turkish in their households, the scripts become de facto adult learning tools. A child whose mother brings her to any early learning class we offer sits through everything with eyes wide open and mouth clamped shut. The mother explained that her daughter doesn’t yet speak English. She’s immersing the girl in library classes and allowing her to sit and play with children her age. It reminded me of the powerful universality of play in early learning. Our library’s file cabinet filled with Mother Goose scripts makes more sense to me now. These scripts create opportunities to extend the early learning efforts begun in the library into the home environment. I often begin a nursery rhyme session by saying hello to my little patrons with a puppet, such as an animal. Now, when I know a family is dual language, instead of just saying hello and asking the child their name, I ask them how to say dog or sheep or pig in their language, so the whole group is learning together. Plus, how cool is it to learn that the Russian word for fox, лиса, is pronounced lee-SAH? I think I just found my spirit animal, thanks to Mother Goose.

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