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5.4.2: Focus on Support for Historically Underserved Groups

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    As you think about developing your storytime strategies, consider all the communities your library serves and how some groups may have been historically underserved by your library. These groups may include working caregivers, teen caregivers, families experiencing homelessness, caregivers in recovery programs, families who speak a native language other than English or are English language learners, or families with children with differing abilities or cognitive differences. One overall strategy many librarians have found to be effective is to collaborate with a local agency such as a health department, recreation center, or nonprofit organization that is already serving members of the community you wish to better serve (Arnold, 2002; Campana, Mills, & Martin, 2018; Martinez, 2008). Another general strategy is to design storytimes with the expectation that every caregiver has valuable knowledge and experiences to share. As one early childhood specialist, Renea Arnold (2002) explains, “A partnership can develop only when we acknowledge that parents and caregivers can be skilled, knowledgeable, experienced, and active contributors to children's development. We expect to exchange information with them and consider their opinions. This establishes reciprocity in the relationship, with parents and caregivers contributing as well as receiving services” (p. 25). In addition to these general strategies, here are a few ideas for promoting and delivering storytimes to a specific underserved group.

    Working Caregivers

    A common barrier for working caregivers is time, so consider using strategis from the Addressing Timing-Related Barriers sections of this guide.

    Advertise your storytimes as specifically beneficial to caregivers for learning how to support their child’s school readiness. Our surveys showed that many caregivers are already interested in these benefits for their children. Working caregivers who have limited time with their children may be especially interested in a program that promises both entertainment and education.

    Consider ways to give caregivers and their children ways to take an active role during the storytime. For example, the key to the success of a monthly reading program, Ramos and Vila (2015) report, was that the participants were given opportunities to choose upcoming program themes and to share the reading activities they had done at home between meetings.

    Families Who Speak a Native Language Other than English; Families Who Are English Language Learners

    Are you monolingual but also interested in presenting bilingual or multilingual storytimes? Some scholars suggest the best practice is to only have fluent speakers present storytime. This is because the presenter should be able to easily interact with the children and talk to caregivers who may have questions about the program, the library, or their child’s literacy and learning (Payne & Ralli, 2017). However, there are plenty of ways to make your current storytimes welcoming to speakers of all languages, whether or not you choose to facilitate an entire storytime in a language other than English.

    • Use online resources to mix in videos of songs and book read alouds in languages other than English.
    • Learn how to say simple conversational phrases, such as hello and goodbye, in three or four languages that are common in your community and use them to welcome families.
    • Invite caregivers to share songs and rhymes for children in their native languages with you and then, if they are comfortable and the words are library appropriate, at a later time with the group.
    • Practice your pacing. Slow down the pace of your delivery when speaking, reading, singing, and transitioning between activities. Practice speaking with energy and enthusiasm without speaking too fast.
    • Display signs with storytime routines translated into multiple languages, when available.
    • Try to use common English words and avoid idioms (e.g., “beat around the bush,” “call it a day”).
    • Be mindful that people have differing cultural views about eye contact with some avoiding eye contact as a sign of respect and some making eye contact to show respect.

    Do you have community members fluent in a language other than English interested in presenting a storytime? This might be a library staff member, a library volunteer, a local college student, or the staff member of another community agency. You could supply them with materials (books, music CDs, etc.), training in storytime best practices, and/or a meeting space at your library to present an additional storytime in that language or in both English and that language. Help them to practice the storytime presentation. Also consider presenting a bilingual storytime.

    Do you have a partner (staff member or volunteer) who is interested in presenting a bilingual storytime with you? Adilene Rogers, a seasoned presenter of Spanish and English storytimes, wrote a "Bilingual Storytime Presenter's Guide" for Jbrary with advice that that is applicable to presenters who speak other languages as well.

    Does your library already offer adult programs such as conversational classes for English Language Learners? Schedule a family storytime to take place immediately before or after one of these programs and advertise it alongside the existing program. This may help more families attend both programs – a win-win. However, a logistical point to keep in mind for this strategy is that children may be unattended while adults are in the conversational class. Offering a family storytime that older and younger siblings attend together gives you the opportunity to talk to older siblings about how to help their younger siblings get ready for school through shared reading and conversations during play; this may be especially helpful for families in which an older child or teen is more fluent in English than a caregiver (Terrell & Watson, 2018).

    Families of Children with Differing Abilities or Cognitive Differences

    It is beneficial for children of all abilities to be able to interact with one another. The concept of natural environments for children with disabilities refers to the idea that these settings should be ones that are typical for a same-aged child without a disability (Early Childhood Technical Assistance Center, n.d.). Creating storytimes that welcome all children shows your support for inclusion and gives families and caregivers options for their children to attend storytime activities.

    Librarian Tricia Bohanon (2020) offers these strategies to help refine or transform your space, activities, and attitude to create a safe, welcoming, inclusive, and accommodating environment for children with differing abilities and cognitive differences.

    Also consider this advice from Dr. Tess Prendergast (2015) about creating inclusive storytimes:

    • Remember, “Children with disabilities are more like other young children who do not have disabilities than they are different from them” (Prendergast, 2015, p. 188). Therefore, the range of activities you provide in storytime may already be welcoming to most children. However, it’s still important to critically consider your storytime practices and what barriers to involvement they might present to children with different abilities or cognitive differences.
    • Slow down the pace of your delivery when speaking, reading, singing, and transitioning between activities. Practice speaking with energy and enthusiasm without speaking too fast.
    • Take time to acknowledge each child, remembering that eye contact, smiles, and gestures are ways of showing welcome and encouragement.
    • Plan for repetition that gives children multimodal or multisensory ways to interact with key ideas. For example, after reading a story, retell it with puppets or other props, have children act-out part of it, sing a song about a related idea, present a related and interactive app, and/or have children create a craft related to characters or objects from the story. Repetition can take place within one program and across multiple programs to reinforce learning.
    • Create a routine so that children can know what to expect in terms of the order of activities. Display the routine with a visual schedule and refer to it as you transition.
    • Talk to every child’s caregiver about what the child may need in order to get the most out of the program. You don’t need to know the child’s medical diagnosis and should not ask for it. Building a trusting relationship is the first step, and then you may discuss further strategies and adaptations to increase the child’s sense of belonging, participation, and learning during storytime.

    Consider contacting the early intervention program specialist in your region. Every state provides early intervention services for children from birth up to age 3 with disabilities and/or developmental delays, but the name of the agency differs across states. Connect with this specialist in order to make them aware of your library’s programs and services and to solicit their advice for more ways that you might tailor programs to be more inclusive.

    5.4.2: Focus on Support for Historically Underserved Groups is shared under a not declared license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by LibreTexts.