Little Engines:
A Simple but Impactful Early Literacy Initiative

Little Engines Live Chat

In ear­ly fall of 2019, I com­plet­ed a grant appli­ca­tion through our local ear­ly child­hood board. I pro­posed a new ear­ly lit­er­a­cy pro­gram called Lit­tle Engines. Each month, we will have an ear­ly child­hood pro­fes­sion­al pro­vide a sto­ry­time pro­gram with activ­i­ties. These include lit­er­a­cy, nutri­tion, child­care, school readi­ness, music/recreation, creativity/arts, and STEAM. The library pro­vides fam­i­lies a tote bag that includes var­i­ous activ­i­ties and a book to enjoy at home togeth­er. This is also a part­ner­ship pro­gram between our local school dis­trict, a local video­g­ra­ph­er, and pub­lic tele­vi­sion. Although this is a grant-fund­ed pro­gram, it is a sim­ple pro­gram that any­one can adopt.

Our First Program:

Dr. Constance Beecher

Dr. Con­stance Beech­er, Iowa State University

In Feb­ru­ary 2020, we had our first pro­gram with Dr. Con­stance Beech­er from the School of Edu­ca­tion at Iowa State Uni­ver­si­ty. Dr. Beecher’s pro­gram focused on enhanc­ing STEM learn­ing through inter­ac­tive activ­i­ties for fam­i­lies to do togeth­er. The pro­gram began with a short inter­view with Dr. Beech­er and it was con­duct­ed by me and Kel­ly Nesheim from Iowa Pub­lic Tele­vi­sion. We did not have an audi­ence in front of us how­ev­er, we encour­aged fam­i­lies to tune in via Face­book Live. The inter­view focused on the impor­tance of fam­i­ly engage­ment and the ques­tions that were asked include:

  1. Tell us a lit­tle about you and what you as an ear­ly child­hood professional. 
  1. What does fam­i­ly engage­ment mean to you?
  1. What are a few things par­ents, grand­par­ents and care­givers can do each day to help engage with their child(ren)?
  1. Are there any spe­cif­ic resources that you can share on fam­i­ly engage­ment and resources that can help to gen­er­ate ideas?
  1. What are going to be doing today for your pro­gram (dis­cuss some of the activ­i­ties you brought and the story(ies) you will be reading). 

The inter­view was con­duct­ed in the children’s depart­ment sto­ry­time room. We repur­posed the space to include an area rug, col­or­ful set­ting, a few posters for a back­drop, and a table to show­case her resources. Dr. Beech­er added the STEM back­packs cre­at­ed by her team. Fol­low this link for more infor­ma­tion about their Check­out STEM pro­gram.

The DotFol­low­ing the inter­view, Dr. Beech­er pro­vid­ed an inter­ac­tive STEM sto­ry­time. She read the sto­ry, The Dot by Peter H. Reynolds. At the con­clu­sion of sto­ry­time, fam­i­lies were instruct­ed to par­tic­i­pate in a vari­ety of STEM activ­i­ties includ­ing an art project, explor­ing the STEM back­packs, and a sci­ence exper­i­ment. All fam­i­lies were giv­en a tote bag with col­or­ing sheets, a book­mark, and a free book. Here is the link to her pro­gram.  Please note that due to COVID-19, we are migrat­ing this pro­gram to a ful­ly online pro­gram. Addi­tion­al updates and pro­grams will be post­ed this fall.

Key Resources Rec­om­mend­ed by Dr. Beecher 

Sign up for the Vroom app

PBS kids

Sci­ence of Parenting

The fol­low­ing are the steps to help you cre­ate your own Lit­tle Engines program:

Step 1: The Layout 

It is impor­tant to con­sid­er the lay­out for this pro­gram. Some ques­tions to con­sid­er include:

  1. What ear­ly child­hood mes­sages do I want to send to par­ents? What are the key top­ics I want to focus on?
  2. How do I want to share these mes­sages? Do I want to record these mes­sages, or do I want to share them live via Face­book Live?
  3. How many times per month do I want to do this pro­gram, and will it be tied to a reg­u­lar­ly sched­uled program?

Step 2: Need­ed Equipment 

A key part of the Lit­tle Engines pro­gram is the use of a vir­tu­al plat­form to reach fam­i­lies. For this pro­gram, we pur­chased a tri­pod to fit both a tablet and a cell­phone so we can record these videos. How­ev­er, you could use a web­cam and con­nect a lap­top or desk­top com­put­er to record the videos. You will need to have access to a strong WiFi or eth­er­net for live videos.

Step 3: Record­ing Platforms

The fol­low­ing is a list of record­ing platforms:

  1. Face­book Live
  2. Zoom
  3. Google Hang­out
  4. Web­room

Step 4: Find­ing Presenters

For this pro­gram, the pre­sen­ters we locat­ed were from a vari­ety of sec­tors includ­ing edu­ca­tion, health, parks and recre­ation, emer­gency ser­vices, uni­ver­si­ties, and ear­ly child­hood com­mit­tees. It is impor­tant for me to empha­size that the pre­sen­ters for the Lit­tle Engines pro­gram have expe­ri­ence speak­ing with peo­ple; how­ev­er, they may not have expe­ri­ence on cam­era. It is impor­tant to reas­sure them and help pro­vide guid­ance through­out this process. The fol­low­ing is a short list of pre­sen­ters to whom we will reach out to par­tic­i­pate in the Lit­tle Engines program:

  1. Iowa State Uni­ver­si­ty School of Education
  2. Boone Iowa Coun­ty Conservation
  3. Ear­ly Child­hood Iowa board
  4. Iowa Asso­ci­a­tion for the Edu­ca­tion of Young Chil­dren play committee
  5. Boone Coun­ty Hospital
  6. Blank Children’s Hospital
  7. Reach Out and Read Iowa
  8. Iowa Pub­lic Television
  9. Boone Humane Society
  10. State Library of Iowa

Step 5: The Program

The Lit­tle Engines pro­gram has two phas­es. The first phase includes an inter­view between me, on pub­lic tele­vi­sion, and the month­ly guest speak­er. This inter­view focus­es on ask­ing the speak­er spe­cif­ic ques­tions relat­ing to fam­i­ly engage­ment. The objec­tive for this inter­view is to pro­vide par­ents an under­stand­ing of the top­ic, resources avail­able to them and their child to learn more about this top­ic, and ideas on how they can engage with their child. The sec­ond phase is the pro­gram and some ques­tions to con­sid­er include:

  1. What are spe­cif­ic top­ics that are in high demand for the fam­i­lies you serve? Some exam­ples include healthy eat­ing or the impor­tance of phys­i­cal activity.
  2. What space do you have avail­able to host this pro­gram and is it pos­si­ble to mod­i­fy this space to meet the need of the partner?
  3. What will engage­ment between chil­dren and fam­i­lies include? For exam­ple, what activ­i­ties can the part­ner pro­vide in their pro­gram to encour­age this engagement?
  4. How can we mod­i­fy the pro­gram to meet a vir­tu­al platform?
  5. If pos­si­ble, what give­aways can you pro­vide to fam­i­lies, i.e., books, book­marks, a tote bag, and/or a make-and-take craft?

Step 6: Advertisement 

To adver­tise this pro­gram, we worked with Iowa Pub­lic Tele­vi­sion to cre­ate a logo to include on posters and news­pa­per arti­cles. We adver­tised on the local radio sta­tion, local news­pa­per, on our Face­book page and the com­mu­ni­ty Face­book page, with the local school dis­trict, and the local human ser­vices com­mit­tee. Can­va is an excel­lent tool for us to use to cre­ate mar­ket­ing mate­ri­als at no cost. 

Key Books Used for this Program

Five books used in the program

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