AP NEWS

Sioux Falls libraries aim to be more baby friendly

October 7, 2019
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This photo taken Sept. 27, 2019, shows Mila Yang stares looking at the moving colors of a parachute during a music and movement program at the Sioux Falls, S.D., library. Sioux Falls area librarians are spending the next three years with one major goal in mind: to increase early childhood literacy skills across the city in measurable ways by 2022. (Erin Bormett/The Argus Leader via AP)
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This photo taken Sept. 27, 2019, shows Mila Yang stares looking at the moving colors of a parachute during a music and movement program at the Sioux Falls, S.D., library. Sioux Falls area librarians are spending the next three years with one major goal in mind: to increase early childhood literacy skills across the city in measurable ways by 2022. (Erin Bormett/The Argus Leader via AP)

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) — Sioux Falls area librarians are spending the next three years with one major goal in mind: to increase early childhood literacy skills across the city in measurable ways by 2022.

And the best way to make that happen is by breaking social norms and making libraries engaging, fun and loud.

In the last year, Siouxland Library officials have been focused on finding new ways to captivate young readers and learners by reaching them before they get to kindergarten.

It’s part of an early literacy initiative rooted in the fact that more than 50% of South Dakota caregivers don’t read to children ages 0-5 each day, and less than half of parents or family members do not tell stories or sing songs, said Jenna Neugebauer, the children’s librarian at the downtown library branch.

And it’s tied to the early literacy rate for the Sioux Falls School District, which sits at 68%. The district serves less than 35% of incoming kindergartners through its pre-K program, so the remaining children are either served by private providers or not at all, she said.

“I have a lot of pride in South Dakota and our Siouxland communities, but we can do better when it comes to investing in our futures and in our children,” Neugebauer told the Argus Leader. “An investment in early literacy endeavors creates healthier communities through interaction, reading, and intentional time with your little one.”

Libraries are adding play areas, literacy focused toys

The goal first came about after Mayor Paul TenHaken came up with the idea for each department to set an ambitious goal difficult to achieve, she said. But to achieve it, or even exceed it, developing early literacy skills starts with finding ways to reach parents and takes the work of many, she said.

So librarians across the city started the new school year by assessing space to dedicate some sort of play area at each of the branches, buying specific toys geared toward various early literacy concepts and going through intensive six-week training courses focused on how to include more literacy concepts into programs.

They’ve also started hosting more parent-child events focused on developing birth to 5 skills, like baby story times, music and movement classes, and workshops about child nutrition and development taught by specialists.

“We learn so much by sound, seeing things and touching things,” said librarian associate Aldijana Bonander. “If you’re constantly shushing them, it’s like, ‘Oh, there’s the mean old ladies.’”

And that has the possibility to create more of an unwelcome feeling, Bonander said.

“We have always known that what we do in story time is learning based,” Neugebauer said. “But we have not always pointed that out.”

Events show kids it’s OK to get loud at the library

But by being more direct and letting children explore the library in a free and safe way in an area where they can be themselves, the chance to improve literacy skills brings in parents like Shuai Yang, who moved to Sioux Falls with his daughter from Lubbock, Texas, two months ago.

Since he arrived, Shuai and his daughter Mila Yang, 1, have come for baby story time almost every day, he said. The library quickly became a way for his family to connect to the city after he saw events for his daughter online, he said.

Having access to early childhood literacy options like that allow Shuai to watch his daughter learn more and grow faster as she makes new friends, he said. Both were at a recent Friday morning’s music and movement class, which started with a book about jazz and rhythm and ended with word play songs and parachute games.

“When you’re already at home, it’s so quiet,” Shuai said. “Here, (she can) open her heart, be happy and enjoy the time.”

But measuring the success will be the challenge, so the library has developed an action committee working on setting smaller goals to reach the larger one by looking at attendance and feedback as how many books are brought to local day cares as part of the library’s day care delivery program, Neugebauer said.

And librarians have been meeting with other community groups like local nonprofits education experts to learn what works, what doesn’t and where not to replicate things already out there, she said.

“Our hope is that by meeting the series of smaller goals that we’re pushing toward that larger goal,” Neugebauer said.

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Information from: Argus Leader, http://www.argusleader.com