Memorial Library a Leader in Early Literacy
Thursday, July 24, 2008
Many of us might think literacy begins when a child first learns to read. But, what if you discovered that from ‘day one’ each little word, every nursery rhyme, whimsical sing song, or colourful picture book played a crucial role in laying down the bones of literacy? What if you also discovered that the issue of literacy transcended socioeconomic status? Would it be a call to action? Julia Hedley, Head of the Youth Department at West Vancouver Memorial Library, hopes so. So much so, that she’s taken up the cause with a tireless campaign to ensure each and every local child has the advantage of early literacy.
Hedley’s mission was triggered through her work in Lower Mainland libraries where she became painfully aware of the need for early literacy programs in both inner-city, as well as affluent neighbourhoods. Her experience prompted her to spearhead the library's 'Every Child Ready to Read' program, now in its third year. "Regardless of affluence, we’re seeing extremes in school readiness. In fact, before entering kindergarten, the number of hours a child has been read to can range from zero to 2,000 or more,” she says. “Of course, another benefit is that it's much easier to address recognized disabilities in the early years.”
Is there a key to early literacy success? “Definitely,” exclaims Hedley who cites the nature of the child/caregiver interaction in the early years. Affluent families may have access to preschools, nannies, and other programs – which all benefit – however, what's most important is early one-on-one interaction with the key caregiver.
This became evident to Hedley after attending a Seattle library conference in 2004. Findings revealed the gateway to literacy is during the babyhood years - when we're physically laying down pathways in the brain. Says Hedley: “It was right then and there, that it all came together for me.”
Upon her return, Hedley sprang into action and, together with a colleague from Burnaby, presented the findings to colleagues. Their enthusiasm prompted her to present her case to the West Vancouver Memorial Library Foundation. With its approval and funding, a session was held for Children's Librarians throughout the Lower Mainland. Hedley also introduced a program at the West Van Library for caregivers, which is now in its third year of providing caregivers with specific activities to nurture their child’s early literacy.
Complementing this is the provincial ‘Books for Babies’ program, which uses the libraries as a distribution point for material – providing new parents with a grab bag of books and music, as well as tips on fostering early literacy.
Hedley’s tireless work as an advocate for early literacy has now resulted in her secondment by the Provincial Government to present workshops to libraries in other parts of B.C. Sharing this wealth of knowledge – knowing the results are proven – nurturing early literacy devotees – for Hedley, it’s a dream come true.
You could say that, for West Vancouver Memorial Library, the past few years have been a page-turner.
For more information on the library’s early literacy program, visit www.westvanlib.org.