2 Years with BFK! A Spotlight on Hannah Kowalczyk-Harper

Our Library Specialists are at the core of what we do. Once the library is built, it is the programs and people inside that truly make it a resource as they guide children toward a love of books and a lifelong journey of learning. As R. David Lankes said, “Bad libraries build collections, good libraries build services, great libraries build communities.” And Hannah, our Las Vegas Library Specialist, keeps community at the heart of everything she does. She’s been with us two years and we wanted to shine a little light on her important work.

Hannah has had a deep impact on the children and families that come through her library, so we’re sharing some of those fun and special moments with all of you.

Here are some of Hannah’s favorite moments from her last two years, in her own words:

It’s always really fun to celebrate the changing of seasons with the students at my schools. For example at two of my sites, we’ve had “Fall in Love with Reading” events to celebrate fall. For a parent event at Variety last year, I created a big, fake fireplace so families could “cuddle up with a good book.” If it hasn’t become clear, I love a good pun. After the event, I kept the fireplace in the library until winter ended. Sometimes during their library session, children would say they were cold. My response would be to pull the fireplace closer and let them carefully warm their hands. With warnings to be careful and not burn themselves, they would typically touch the tissue paper and, all smiles, pretend to have burned themselves. I love kids’ imaginations and how they’ll play along with almost anything!

Not only do my students say the cutest things, but they make the silliest faces! Last year, I laughed way too hard at our impromptu “David Face” contest. Prior to going to the library that day, I hadn’t planned on having any contests. But when I told kids to make a face that looks like David from the series by David Shannon, it was too funny for their classmates and teachers not to see. We decided to have a contest where Books for Kids staff would decide which children made the best “David Face” and give them a free book. All participants received a sticker. With fun activities like this, I hope to reinforce that books aren’t just serious, they’re fun!

FullSizeRender (1)
Marlowe, Hannah, and the rest of the class enjoying The Black Book Of Colors.

Each year I have some returning students and meet lots of new children that I haven’t worked with before. This year, one of my new students is Marlowe*. Being blind, we wanted to make sure Marlowe still felt represented in the library. The moment I asked Lisa about braille books, she started looking for books we could add to our collection. I wouldn’t be able to do my job nearly as successfully without Lisa’s constant support and the enthusiasm of the entire Books for Kids staff. I chose to read The Black Book of Colors not just to Marlowe’s class, but to the all the children at every site. Students loved touching the bumpy pictures in every class. However, it was extra special during Marlowe’s class when she enjoyed the book and never wanted to stop touching the pages. Several staff members have reached out to me and said that Marlowe loves the library books she takes home. She finishes a book and then starts it over again right away. Sometimes it can be difficult for teachers and librarians to see the impact they make, but in this case, I can tell something special is happening.

As a staff, stories like Marlowe’s are shining light posts that take us from day to day and year to year. When books can bring that special feeling of being seen to a child and bring a class together, it is all the proof we need that books can change lives. We hope these stories have given you a glimpse into the world Hannah has created for the kids in Las Vegas.

Thank you, Hannah, for all your work and all your love over the last two years. Books for Kids is glad to have you in the family.

 

*Name has been changed for privacy.

Spotlight on our literacy leaders: the Library Specialists!

“The most important asset of any library goes home at night – the library staff.”
–Timothy Healy

Without our dedicated Library Specialists, our work would be incomplete. They work each week with our teachers and families to make the library come to life for the children. We often share our favorite parts of the job with each other, but we especially want to share them with you, our supporters! So what is it really like working in a Books for Kids library? Let’s hear what our Library Specialists have to say about our work…

Hannah: Las Vegas, NV
“I’ve been with books for kids since September 2015. I believe our most important job is helping to instill a love of reading in young children. Through listening to and interacting with stories we read, these students can explore feelings, relationships, and the world. When we send books home, both checked out books and gift books, we give families extra opportunities to enjoy literacy together and foster a bond over a love of reading.”

IMG_4835.JPG
Kids in Las Vegas gather for StoryTime with Ms. Hannah.


Vanessa: Boston, MA
The group photo is a favorite! It is lending time. The books to borrow have been selected and everyone is getting an early start on reading and waiting to check out.”

IMG_3616.JPG
Lending-ready books mean kids get to borrow their favorites again and again.

Jackie: New York, NY
“The big smiles and hugs that I get when the children enter the bright, colorful space brighten my every day. What I love about coming here is how much the families and children relish getting a book to take home every week and are so conscientious about returning it so their children can get a new one. It makes me so appreciative of the work Books for Kids does in enriching these children’s lives.”

13C324C2-E62B-4007-AA46-7B785069BEAE.JPG
Kids in Ms. Jackie’s StoryTimes know they get to bond over books each week with their dedicated Library Specialist.

Ashley: New York, NY
“I love blending early literacy education with performing arts to get the children excited about reading more in and out of school. I enjoy bringing the characters to life and teaching the children a dance or movement to go with the story so they can have something to take away and get excited about for the next time they open a book. We work with a lot of bilingual children and songs have been a useful tool in learning and understanding the books we are reading (Vocabulary, Pronunciations, Rhythms, etc.). I love to see my kids light up when they see me pulling out the book for StoryTime. I create a little suspense and magic each time I reveal the next story. It’s a joy watching the children at my schools grow and their love for books increasing throughout the school year!”

FullSizeRender-4.jpg
StoryTime with Ms. Ashley is anything but dull, especially when Peppa Pig is involved.


Tanya: New York, NY
“This student was very quiet in StoryTime and was often looking at the rug or had her hands over her ears. She connected with the book I was reading a few times but then went back to looking at the rug. BUT….when I brought out Peppa, her head flew up, eyes bright, and she began cheering and dancing around the room! She totally came alive in that moment. So it just goes to show the power of picking the right book for each individual child and what that can do! Needless to say, I will be bringing in more Peppa to this class in future!”

IMG_3676 (1).jpg
During our final Build-a-Home Library giveaway this year, kids went CRAZY over the Peppa book they got to take home to keep forever.

Amanda: New York, NY
“I first met this mother when she stopped by the library to look at books with her son. Now they stop by the library together every Tuesday. This student loves books about animals and listens intently during every StoryTime. He likes stories about bunnies most of all. His mother says, ‘I have been reading to him since he was one day old.’ (And it shows) I have been truly touched by their bond. They are both always smiling and laughing together. They demonstrate the powerful impact that reading to your child can have on essential development and on the parent/child bond. This mother said that for her son’s first birthday she gave him a Dr. Seuss themed party and everyone that came got a goody bag with a Dr. Seuss book, which they brought to the library to show me. It is a bound book she made for him full of poems, quotes, and photographs from his Dr. Seuss party. In the photos from the party, there is indeed Dr. Seuss everywhere, from the cake to the tablecloths. What I noticed, however, was a photo of the student’s mom and dad wearing t-shirts that said, ‘Thing One’ and ‘Thing Two.’”

parent and child.JPG
Our libraries provide joyful spaces for children and their families to share special moments.

Sam: New York, NY
“There are few things as exciting as hearing children exclaim, ‘It’s library day!’ when they see me in the halls. I wish I could be at my schools every day to continue my not-so-quiet StoryTimes and spread the love of reading.”

IMG_1638 (1).JPG
Ms. Sam is at it again, proving that the library is a space for learning AND laughs, with her not-so-quiet StoryTimes.

Where’s All The Noise Coming From?: A Spotlight on StoryTime

Where’s All The Noise Coming From?

The library!

But, I thought libraries were quiet?

love storytime, and that is definitely not a secret. But I also love StoryTime. What’s the difference you might ask? Storytime is the actual reading of a book to at least one person. The StoryTime Program at Books For Kids includes much more than just reading stories to children. It is composed of library storytime, book lending, book distributions, and family, teacher, and community literacy-based events.

So what is StoryTime like with Ms. Sam? LOUD! The louder, the better, in my opinion. When we read books that are interactive and fun, students should be able to participate. Reading is a social activity. When an adult reads a book they love, they share it with their friends. The same is true at the BFK libraries. During book lending, students proudly show their book selections to their friends. This is one of the reasons we have waiting lists for certain books (I’m talking about you, Peppa Pig).

IMG_7142.JPG

Over the past two years, I have formed strong bonds with the children in the libraries I visit, and Wednesday afternoons and Thursday mornings are my favorite days of the week. When the children see me in the halls, their eyes get big and they say something along the lines of, “I forgot my book!” or “MISS SAM! It’s Thursday.” I hypothesize that our StoryTime program assists the teaching of calendar skills, as each student surely knows which day they visit the library with their respective Library Specialist.

IMG_4666.JPGOn library day, I arrive at the school at least thirty minutes early. This is when I run into children as I am collecting their returned books and checking in with teachers. Once this is finished, I select the books to read.

I use StoryTime to introduce new books and also revisit familiar, favorite books. Some of the favorites in our libraries are: Don’t Push the Button by Bill Cotter, Open Very Carefully: A Book With Bite by Nick Bromley and Nicola O’Byrne, and The Polar Bear’s Underwear by Tupera Tupera. The more we re-read these books, the louder the library becomes because the students are reading along with me. Aside from the major benefits of re-reading, reading loved books is exciting. The students also know my major weakness: book requests. If a child walks into the library and asks me to read a specific title, I simply cannot resist! How does one say no to a three-year-old who asks, “Can we read Pete the Cat Buttons today?” meaning Pete the Cat and His Four Groovy Buttons.

After the stories are through, it’s time for lending! I absolutely love this process because the students have complete freedom over which book they choose. Usually, at the beginning of the year, students will simply choose the books that are on display, but after a couple of months, they know where their favorites are and ask for books read previously during Storytime.

IMG_4058.JPG
As I was greeting the rest of the class at the door, someone decided to be “Miss Sam” and read Pete the Cat: The Wheels on the Bus to the class!

I have been a Library Specialist with Books for Kids since September 2015, and I have read over 1,400 books during StoryTime. Almost 1,400 of those readings have been a boisterous event, but as Maya Angelou said, “Any book that helps a child to form a habit of reading, to make one of his deep and continuing needs, is good for him.” If I don’t follow Maya Angelou’s lead, then what am I doing in a library?

 

IMG_2684 (1)
Reading the Build-A-Home-Library book, Maria Had a Little Llama/Maria Tiene Una Llamita in English and Spanish with Mr. Chris

IMG_4328IMG_4571IMG_6996IMG_7005

 

By Samantha Murray Doktor, Books for Kids Program Officer.
Follow Sam her on her literacy Instagram account @gabandgrow for more book recommendations and tips.

Books for Kids in Boston: Two New Libraries!

In the words of Elephant and Piggie, “We are growing!” We are pleased to announce that we’ve opened, not one, but TWO brand new libraries in Boston, Massachusetts. Thanks to the generosity of the Mario Batali Foundation, a long-time Books for Kids partner, the more than 430 children and families served by ABCD Geneva Early Head Start and Horizons for Homeless Children now have Ms. Vanessa as their dedicated Library Specialist in the library.

Opening a library is no small task. My favorite part of the process is calling the organizations to notify them of their future library and literacy programs. The joy that comes when children are provided these kinds of resources is infectious, and I know how much it’s going to mean to the kids, their families, and their teachers. But every moment, from the build and installation to the ribbon cutting day, is thrilling to our team, so we thought we’d share a little of that excitement from the Boston opening with you all.

Once the library location was chosen, our partners from Windmill Studios traveled to Boston in March to bring the library vision to life. There are many considerations when designing a library for the youngest learners (think: can they reach the shelf?), and we make sure that it’s an environment that’s both fun and encourages developmentally appropriate learning. Once Windmill takes over, they paint, install shelving, and affix the decorative wall elements. The process takes about one to two days for each library.

And now, it’s time to talk about the best part: the books.

image1
What’s a library without books?

I ordered the books for each library in February, and the boxes were all delivered in March. The number of books purchased for any of our libraries depends on the number of children enrolled, so collections can vary drastically. BFK’s Executive Director, Amanda Hirsh, and I traveled to Boston on March 29th and went straight to ABCD Geneva, the larger of the two new libraries. With the help of several volunteers, Amanda, Vanessa, and I unpacked and organized over 2,000 books! (That book order is one of my proudest accomplishments!) The following day, we did the same at Horizons. This collection, of which I am also exceptionally proud, was a collection of over 1,000 books.

IMG_3456
Look at all these books! And there are many, many more.

The only thing left to do was open the library.

On March 31, 2017, Books for Kids participated in Read Eat Grow, an event sponsored by the Mario Batali Foundation to celebrate their dedication and support for Books for Kids, as well as to two other organizations they help support: FoodCorps and First Book. The ceremony took place at ABCD Geneva, and all the attendees got to see the brand new library in person, complete and brimming with books. Children wandered in and out of the library, enraptured, one even exclaiming, “I saw this when there weren’t any books! It looks better now!” High praise. First Book distributed thousands of free books to educators and FoodCorps passed out a delicious and healthy treat. The event epitomized the mission of the Mario Batali Foundation: to ensure all children are well read, well fed and well cared for.

And what happens after a library opening, when the speeches are done and the cameras go away? Literacy programs began at both schools the following week. Our Library Specialists lead magical StoryTimes, facilitate book lending, and plan and implement literacy events for families and teachers in all their libraries. Ms. Vanessa noted that two of the most popular StoryTime books at both schools are This Book is Out Of Control by Richard Byrne and Tap the Magic Tree by Christie Matheson. The students at Horizons studied authors at the beginning of the school year, so they tend to choose books by Mo Willems to borrow for the week to read at home with their families. The students at Geneva love borrowing Peppa Pig books each week.

We thank The Mario Batali Foundation and all our other generous supporters for helping us spread the love of reading and high-quality programming across the country. We look forward to all the exciting opportunities and special StoryTime moments to come.

Here’s a library from start to finish:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

by Samantha Murray Doktor, Books for Kids Program Officer, in collaboration with Samantha Salloway.
Follow Sam Murray Doktor her on her literacy Instagram account @gabandgrow for more book recommendations and tips.

From Page to Screen: Addressing Screen Time for Children

“From birth to about three years of age, each second represents the creation, by the brain, of seven hundred to one thousand additional neuronal connections.”

Dana Suskind

Lately, I have been on what feels like “A Screen Time Crusade.” Whether I’m informing parents of the dangers of their child spending too much time in front of a screen or questioning our nation’s obsession with technology-literate toddlers, I am working to educate caregivers and help them combat the potential consequences of prolonged exposure to screens.

Research about the long-term effects of screen time are still developing, but because we know that interacting, playing, talking, and reading with our children is crucial to maximum brain development, we also know that constant screen time will not match or exceed the value of face-to-face learning. For this reason, among others, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends children under 18 months old should only be in front of a screen while video chatting. Children ages two to five should not exceed one hour of screen time each day, and that is only for high-quality and interactive programming (AAP).”

What are babies really learning if they are passively watching material while simultaneously over-stimulating their brains with the pace, sounds, and colors of videos and “educational resources” presented to them on a screen? “In 1970, the average age in which children began to watch television regularly was 4 years. And today, based on research that we’ve done, it’s 4 months. It’s not just how early they watch but how much they watch. The typical child before the age of 5 is watching about four and half hours of TV a day. That represents as much as 40 percent of their waking hours” (Dr. Dimitri Christakis on NPR’s When It Comes to Kids, Is All Screen Time Equal? September 11, 2015). Each of those seconds matters, and it’s important to not waste time with screens that overstimulate the brain with flashing colors and sequences that are too fast to process. These types of programs teach the brain that life is constantly moving, changing scenes, and that one can receive immediate gratification. This is why it’s not surprising that one study from Seattle Children’s Hospital found that, “For each hour of daily TV viewed by the child before age three, the risk of Attention- Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) by age seven increased by 10 percent,” (Jim Trelease, The Read Aloud Handbook, 145).

Have you ever come up with amazing ideas in the shower? Perhaps while walking your dog? Maybe when you’re about to fall asleep? That’s because you’re allowing your brain to reflect on the day and make new connections. We all know we should not fall asleep in front of screens, “but scientists point to an unanticipated side effect: When people keep their brains busy with digital input, they are forfeiting downtime that could allow them to better learn and remember information, or come up with new ideas” (Matt Ritchel, Digital Devices Deprive Brain of Needed Downtime, New York Times, August 24, 2010).

All parents and caregivers want their children to achieve their greatest potential, which is why we must lead by example. It breaks my heart when I see adults wearing headphones or earbuds, ignoring the child’s needs and curiosity of their surroundings. Not only is wearing headphones during daily interactions sending a message (intentionally or not) to the child that their questions, desire for interaction, and love are not important, but they are learning that those adult behaviors are acceptable, and they will do the same as they age. Just like we model good reading behaviors to our little ones, we need to model appropriate usage of screen time. We cannot avoid technology, but we can put the screens away in order to be more present in our children’s lives. How about pointing out the signs and logos in your neighborhood, grocery store, or on the bus? It’s an easy way to read, wherever you are. And is there anything better than reading together? You can also make sure you are prepared for times when you may need to occupy your child by carrying board or paperback books, paper and crayons, or word games you can play together.

Not all screen exposure is harmful to children, which is why the AAP includes video chatting as the acceptable form of technology use for children younger than two. Another way you can make screen time valuable is to use closed-captioning. “Enabling the TV’s closed-captioning is the equivalent of a newspaper subscription, but unlike the subscription, it costs nothing” (Jim Trelease, The Read Aloud Handbook, 153). This is especially beneficial to lower-income families who may not have access to a library or additional income for books.

Screen time is an almost unavoidable activity in all of our lives. In order to make the most of technology, participate with your child, even if it’s simply asking a question when the program is finished, discussing the topics covered, or pointing out features from the program in your real life. Make the screen time valuable, and share the experience.

Your turn! What are some of your favorite strategies for making the most of and limiting screen time? Let us know in the comments below.

Book recommendations to enjoy with little ones:

screen time recs

Ada Twist, Scientist by Andrea Beaty & illustrated by David Roberts
Du Iz Tak by Carson Ellis
Not Quite Narwhal by Jessie Sima
Play by Dr. John Hutton & illustrated by Sarah Jones
Tek: The Modern Cave Boy by Patrick McDonnell

And a book recommendation for those interested in further reading:

read-aloud handbook

The Read-Aloud Handbook by Jim Trelease

by Samantha Murray Doktor, Books for Kids Program Officer
Follow Sam her on her literacy Instagram account @gabandgrow for more book recommendations and tips.

Stories to Learn From: Women’s History Month and Beyond

womens history collage

March was Women’s History Month, but that doesn’t mean that because March is done we have to stop learning. We created a book list so that you and your family can keep the learning going all year round. Picture books are great for introducing young readers to famous women in history while novels and biographies can be perfect for older children looking to learn more about an era in history or a woman they admire. Whether reading about the arts, science, or politics— you can be sure there’s an admirable lady for kids to look up to and learn from.

Happy reading!

3 Ways to Increase Children’s Vocabulary

 

caterpillar
All my life I’ve looked at words as though I were seeing them for the first time.” — Ernest Hemingway

Words are currency for conversation. We all have the ability learn more valuable vocabulary. The best part is that when we teach others words, it doesn’t make us poorer, but rather enriches both lives. Whether you’re a parent, teacher, or just want to help the next generation succeed, there are simple ways to help children increase their vocabularies.

Talk & Read More

In order for children to have high vocabularies, they need to be exposed to as much language as possible. This may seem obvious once children turn a certain age, but it is actually important to begin speaking to children from birth (or sooner!). It’s even beneficial to read to newborns. The bad news is that television and other recorded voices won’t work as well as a live person speaking. The good news is that you can read any material to a newborn. This can be a great way to catch up on reading the news or any book you’re currently working on. As vocabulary expert Dana Suskind explains, “While babies may not understand the words, they are comforted by the sound of a parent’s voice, the rhythm of speech, and the warmth of the touch.”

Keep Language Positive

As kids grow and begin to comprehend what adults are saying, it’s important for them to hear an abundance of positive language. Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) specialists agree that our brains struggle to process negative words. This is why when people are told not to think of a purple elephant, it becomes difficult to think of anything else. With children, this can mean when you say, “Don’t touch!” their brains are focusing on “Touch!” Luckily, we can easily counteract this problem by rephrasing what we say with a positive spin. For example, “Don’t touch!” can be traded out for, “Please keep your hands to yourself.” The more words a child’s brain can process, the more words they will remember.

Repeat & Rephrase

Rephrasing is also useful when it comes to what children are saying. Repeating what a youngster has said, and slightly correcting the wording, is a wonderful way to increase vocabulary. For instance, if a child exclaims, “That dog is real big!” you might respond with, “Yes, that dog is huge!” Using new words in the context of what a child is already talking about makes it easy to introduce new words.

BONUS:

If a kid’s home language is differentchild in library and Spanish book than the one spoken at school, it’s important to develop literacy skills in his or her native language as studies have found that strengthening skills in any language is beneficial while learning a new one. If you want your child fluent in English, vocabulary from other languages can help show connections between the words. 
Look in your local library for some our favorite books which are available in multiple languages or have bilingual editions:

1. Spot Goes to School by Eric Hill (Arabic Edition)

2. Growing Vegetable Soup by Lois Ehlert (English and Spanish)

3. Janjak and Freda Go to the Iron Market by Elizabeth Turnbull (English and Creole)

Follow these tips and the children around you will be rich with words! What are some of your favorite tips for increasing vocabulary? Let us know below.

What are some of your favorite tips for increasing vocabulary? Let us know below.

by Hannah Kowalczyk-Harper. Hannah is a Library Specialist with Books for Kids and works in our Las Vegas libraries. This post originally appeared on her blog at Medium.com. 

Stories to learn from: Black History Month and Beyond

black-history-month-collage

Black History Month ends today, but that doesn’t mean the learning has to stop! The stories shared in February need to continue being shared during the rest of the year. For children, seeing themselves represented in their literature in early learning (and throughout their lives) is as imperative as learning about the experiences of others. Having these stories presented in formats kids can understand, in a developmentally appropriate way, not only connects them to their larger world but aids in their personal growth and the strengthening of their literacy skills.

For the last week of Black History Month, we did a #7Days7Books series on Twitter. To keep the learning and sharing going all year round, here is an expanded list.

Songs in the Library

librarian reads to children who sing and dance
Hannah Kowalczyk-Harper, our Las Vegas Library Specialist, gets one of our readers to show off his best air guitar skills while singing a song in the library.

Pop Quiz: Which letter comes before “Q” in the alphabet?

I bet you didn’t think we could make you sing that easily, did you?

Chances are, you didn’t first learn the alphabet as a spoken sequence of letters, but as a song. Songs are extremely valuable in fostering early childhood literacy skills. Songs get stuck in your head, and what are songs made up of? Words. The support of our donors enables us to provide each of our libraries with a dedicated Library Specialist to not only lend books and read aloud to children but to engage them with songs, which helps them learn more words. Recently, we interviewed our seven Library Specialists to hear how and why they use songs in our libraries across the country from Alabama, to California, and New York.