Some people forget the Marshalltown Public Library’s youth department is an education partner, said youth services manager Joa LaVille.
“That’s our role in that we are a partner both with traditional education, teachers, but also parents, to try to empower parents to be the best teachers that they can be with their kids,” LaVille said.
Learning loss is always an issue over the summer when kids are not in school, which is why the library offers the annual summer reading program, but results released by the Iowa Department of Education have shown the COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated some learning loss.
“That issue is really important and needs all the players that it can get,” LaVille said. “We have a lot of the tools to be an important partner in that.”
The library offers a range of free educational programs aimed at school readiness for children.
Some parents and children participate in a challenge to read 1,000 books before kindergarten. When milestones are reached at 25, 100, 500, 800 and finally 1,000 books read, children receive a free book and a surprise prize from the library’s youth desk. At completion level, children also get their picture added to the library’s super readers photo album.
Online challenge software called Beanstack allows parents and their kids to log the books they’ve read. Any way a child experiences a book makes it eligible to be logged, such as if the book is read to them by a parent. The same book can also be logged more than once in case a child wants a book reread.
A total of 221 readers are currently enrolled in the program, with six readers having completed 1,000 books so far. Since the library began the program in 2020, more than 16,000 books have been logged.
Since the program has no start or end date, enrollment can happen at any time through the Beanstack software available through the library’s website.
LaVille recommends reading to babies from day one, but said it is never too late to begin. Kids have until age 7 to complete the challenge.
“The main thing is that the more you’re reading with your child before they start kindergarten, the more successful your child’s experience is going to be,” LaVille said.
The program can also help kids cultivate favorite books and authors, which is an important part of raising a reader, she said.
“Letting them pick and reflect on what they’ve read and talking about what they’ve read, all those things go into school readiness and help their brain get to where they need to be to be an independent reader,” LaVille said.
Parents also have the opportunity to learn strategies to talk, read and sing more with their newly welcomed children that helps their development. The free Small Talk Literacy program is offered to parents of babies ages birth to 30 months.
The 10-week virtual class via Zoom begins at 5:30 p.m., Sept. 15. With small classes of eight to 12 families, pre-registration with the library is required. The classes teach parents research-based strategies in building their baby’s brain based around increasing talk.
“Conversational turn is the most important quality in talking to children, and so that basically means give and take,” LaVille said. “Which sounds interesting when you think about an age group where kids are pre-verbal, and that might sound weird to say conversational turn with a baby that’s not talking yet, but it really is about pausing and interacting and waiting for the baby to respond pre-verbally.”
The classes offer scenarios and methods of how to build conversation with a baby, with parents receiving data on progress they make.
For further questions about how to access any of the library’s educational programs, stop by the library during their operating hours or give the library’s youth desk a call at 641-754-5738 ext. 3.
Contact Trevor Babcock at 641-753-6611 or