Week 12 – Children and Teens Program Review

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      Kirsty Roberts

      Convincing children and teens – and parents of the former – to become involved with public libraries has been an uphill battle. While children are usually quite enthusiastic about reading and libraries in general, they often experience a shift during adolescence (particularly teenage boys) where their opinions on both of these subjects changes exponentially. Being forced to read and critically analyse the books they’re reading during high school means a vast number of teenagers graduate or leave school with a detestation of reading and avoid doing so recreationally. Back in 2014, TIME magazine published statistics reporting that 45% of 17-year-olds “read by choice only once or twice a year”, while 22% of 13-year-olds and 27% of 17-year-olds never or hardly ever read for pleasure.

      This is why it is so important to nurture this enthusiasm while children are still young – it could help create legions of lifelong readers. Unfortunately, less and less parents are choosing to read to their children, despite evidence to suggest that it’s highly beneficial. Even as infants there are benefits – while they certainly can’t fully understand what is being said, they are able to recognise “rhythm, tones and inflections of [a parent’s] voice” and makes them better prepared for both speech – by improving vocabulary – and independent reading. Even more so, reading to children helps boost early literacy skills which are critical for success during school and with Queensland boasting the lowest levels of literacy in the country, it’s an activity that needs all the support it can get.

      For my post this week I’ll be reviewing a program but it comes with a certain twist – instead of simply attending a storytime session at Mitchelton library, I helped run it.

      For those of you who aren’t familiar, Mitchelton library hosts range of reading activities twice-weekly for three different age groups – babies, toddlers, and children aged 2-5. The babies’ session focuses on song and rhyme, the toddlers’ on song, rhyme and board books and finally children on song, dance, picture books and arts and crafts. While I was fortunate to sit in on – and participate in – all of these sessions, my review will focus on my favourite timeslot – children. Being quite young and childless, I was a little unsure of what to expect coming into the session but it soon became quite clear that I shouldn’t have been.

      The session began with a welcome song (I came to learn it quickly over the span of my placement), followed by a few rhymes complete with actions (most of which I’d somehow managed to remember from my own preschool experience), a picture book, more rhymes, a final book and a special arts and crafts activity related to the theme of the chosen books. The session – and the feedback I received on my own reading performance – were overwhelmingly positive. Breaking the books up with rhymes and songs in between helped keep the attention of the children, who tend to get quite restless if they’re required to sit and listen for too long (something I noticed during my first week of simply observing). The enticement of crafting also kept the energy of the room high throughout the session – with good reason. During the week we had produced makeshift four-page books that the children could write their own stories in and decorate/illustrate with images we had cut up from discarded book slip covers. It was very rewarding to have children approach me after the session with big smiles, proudly showing me the books they had created.

      From the conversations I had with a number of the parents afterward, it was clear that they found the session incredibly beneficial as well as enjoyable – even if it was only their first session. Many of these same parents came back during my following week, often borrowing books for their children and themselves afterward. My supervisor Julie informed me that in public libraries, they manage to lose readers during adolescence and often don’t manage to gain them back. Storytime, however, gave them an opportunity to draw adults back in through their children. While it’s heartening to know that recreational reading can be taken up at any age, it’s a shame that we as a collectively society manage to lose our joy for it.

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