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Young Readers Need Eye Smiles and Lots of Books

As access to physical books has become difficult during the pandemic, digital libraries, Zoom story times, and other resources help young students stay connected to books and stories.

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Recently, I received the biggest “eye smile” from one of our smallest students. It was a Friday afternoon, and staff were transitioning their small clusters of students from the classroom to the playground. I stepped out into the hall as one group was about to pass by my temporary office and realized how much I missed seeing the smiles of children because of masks. I was also struck by the resilience of our students: How in less than three weeks, they had transitioned back to a school setting created for emergency childcare, in classrooms that looked nothing like the school they had left in March.

Four months ago, when the coronavirus pandemic closed schools, I found myself frantically pulling together electronic resources for teachers to share with our students, especially our preschoolers, and their families. While some of our childcare teachers utilized platforms like Google Classrooms, our early childhood classes had always been focused on hands-on learning activities to support language development and socialization. In these classrooms, teachers had a wide variety of books available for students to select and read. Previously, ebooks were never a priority with this age group, but now, with the pandemic, they were becoming a primary focus.

Ebook resource
One of the first resources that our early childhood educators adopted when they transitioned to distance learning was the digital reading platform EPIC! Though I had shared this resource before, most of our teachers hadn’t tried to use the web-based program for their classrooms, opting instead for physical books. However, EPIC! was easy for teachers to set up and for families to use, and it quickly became a favorite.

Many of us, including children, love physical copies of books, but with the pandemic, access to books to flip through or leisurely look at the illustrations became a huge challenge. Distance learning required teachers and families to adapt, and while we were selecting resources, we particularly needed to consider families that had limited access to books and technology. We needed as many free resources as possible to ensure that all families had access, including books in Spanish or other languages.

As community libraries closed along with schools, family access to books, especially free books, took on a whole new dynamic. For families who already had a library card and understood how to access resources such as the Libby App or Hoopla on the library’s main pages, this was an easy recommendation. However, for many other families, we needed to find sources that they could use easily.

Along with ebooks, videos became a popular source of stories for read-alouds for many families. Fortunately, during the initial months of the pandemic, many publishers, authors, and illustrators provided teachers and families with a variety of materials that could be accessed via YouTube or Facebook Live.

Keeping on top of new releases

Whether school is happening in a traditional setting or virtually, teachers need opportunities to hear about new books being released, and when possible, to be able to browse through titles. Though I appreciated the emails from EPIC! recommending certain books, I realized we needed to still do booktalks for teachers. It didn’t matter how good the resource page on our district website is, or resources recommended via email, it is still vital to share titles.

During many of my staff connections via Zoom, I would often take a minute to share how to better use a resource or how another teacher used it to create engagement with students and families. I also learned that opening the EPIC! emails and highlighting particular titles guaranteed that these titles would get more attention from teachers.

Fair use

Most teachers, not just early childhood ones, need to be educated on fair use laws and how copyright laws apply to books. A lot of read-alouds are available on YouTube, I decided that this was an important time to direct teachers to sources with proper permission to post a read aloud. Storyline Online is a fabulous resource, and I also shared SLJ’s “Publishers Adapt Policies to Help Educators,” which provides policy guidelines from various publishers.

Though it wasn’t always easy to engage students via Zoom or Google Meet, most of our early childhood teachers had success with their regular storytimes. Even during a pandemic, it is comforting to have classroom favorites as well as new titles read by a teacher.

As we prepare for the upcoming school year and a slow transition back to school, many of these virtual resources can be utilized by teachers as they plan learning activities. I loved how educator and professional development trainer Claire Landrigan used Padlet to create a virtual classroom and school library. I am already thinking about how to host Zoom meetings to share booktalks and how to assess the books in the classroom library to determine what gaps exist and how to ensure that the titles represent the diverse students in the classroom.

Until we can return to story time and book sharing in a more traditional manner, I appreciate the growing resources available to get books into the virtual hands of students.

Alyson Beecher is a program supervisor with the Glendale (CA) Unified School District’s Early Education and Extended Learning Programs. She can be found on Twitter @alysonbeecher.

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Yaa Obeng

Claire's virtual classroom library is absolutely awesome. Thanks to her big heart for sharing!

Posted : Aug 07, 2020 06:18


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