Library and Family Hub staff engaged families in the impact of storytelling and books with young children by modelling storytelling and discussion of the new books. Parents began to acknowledge and show pleasure in seeing theirs and others babies and children respond, sit and listen to stories and books.
Listening and concentration skills of children improved appropriate to ages/stages of development and several parents engaged more in storytelling and subsequently visited the library to attend library storytimes.
The COVID-19 pandemic in 2020/21 impacted on children and their ability to socialise and interact with the wider world. Unable to interact with other children, families and the wider community, children lost access to learning and play experiences and parents lost opportunities for other parents and professional support. The emotional development of babies born in lockdown is highlighted by parents as leading to some lack of confidence in new social situations and with other children and adults.
Early years foundation stage data analysis shows that in 2019 the National Good Level of Development (GLD) score was 71.8 per cent. In 2019, Wakefield’s indicate that 70.8 per cent of children achieved GLD at the end of Reception Year. For children within the area covered by this case study, 70 per cent achieve GLD at the end of Reception Year.
Post COVID-19, professionals report delays in socialising, and speech, language and communication skills, and this pilot provided an opportunity for Family Hubs and Libraries to reconnect and focus families on book sharing, stories and encouraging visits to the library. The challenge was to support families to discover the pleasure of reading and sharing books together and to develop a lifelong relationship with literacy while also developing the child’s experiences of social cues, turn taking and communicating with other children. This was undertaken with families attending stay and play sessions at two family hubs (one within walking distance of a library and one not within walking distance to the same library), to provide new opportunities to support parents and develop skills they could use in the home learning environment and to widen access to libraries for additional and complementary support.
Library and family hub staff worked jointly, over a six-week period, to bring universal library services into the family hubs, which are in areas of greater deprivation. Working with a maximum of 15 families (due to COVID restrictions), quality story sessions were jointly delivered, modeling not only a brand-new title each week, but how to use actions, songs, tone of voice to bring the story to life and how to select books for young children.
Parents could observe, join in, and put these book sharing behaviours into practice themselves at home. Book displays were created, and parents encouraged to explore the books within a cozy reading area. BookTrust resources were used to support and encourage engagement with the titles through stickers, character props and voting posters.
Parents were invited to comment on and vote for their favourite books with a ‘reveal’ event at the library to announce the winner. Staff had opportunities for one-to-one conversations to improve the confidence of parents with a range of abilities, disabilities and reading experiences to engage with their children using books and to visit the library. Parents received a personal invitation to visit the library from the very person they could reasonably expect to meet when they ventured in.
Families have joined the library, attended library storytimes and become advocates for the library and its services. Families have been encouraged to visit the library and have discovered a fun, safe place for themselves and their children that they are happy to return to and where they will be supported through their children’s literacy journey. Names have been changed, but the vignette describes the impact of this collaborative approach:
How is the new approach being sustained?
It is our intention to continue to work with BookTrust with the anticipated roll out of the Storytime Prize to all libraries in autumn 2022. The approach will be presented to the Early Years Strategic Board with the aim of embedding into our Early Years offer. Planning, preparation and delivery will to be scheduled to enable family hub and library staff to develop shared skills and experiences and to adapt the approach within their own locality.
Early years staff found that the planned books improved the quality of their own storytime. Six titles planned and prepared in detail and selected as a book collection, brought a deeper focus to the storytime. It also facilitated discussions with parents that raised staff awareness of wider literacy, language, emotional and cultural barriers for some families.
For library staff, it was the opportunity to make a personal connection with families who were not accessing services. These one-to-one conversations enabled staff to explain about what happens in a library and to offer a genuine invitation to visit the library – a welcoming and trusted space with services for everyone where families can enjoy storytimes, activities and events together with a range of modern, attractive, and diverse stock. Staff were fully integrated into the sessions – from welcoming parents to the all-important tidying up.
Family hubs and libraries in Wakefield have historically had very close relationships and this case study reveals the value of such collaborative working upon service delivery, access, practitioners and most importantly, families.