At work, we have a number of professional subscriptions, including to Book Links. Skimming through the latest issue (Oct 2009) I came across an article about Family Literacy that floored me.

One of the suggestions was a Family Literacy Night at the Library. I was excited at the prospect of getting some new ideas to add to my storytime, where the parents are continually hearing me harp about early literacy techniques, methods and reasoning.

I was stunned when I read the “schedule for the evening” , for after the introduction, the first activity suggested was watching a fifteen minute movie.

I have nothing against movies in general. I don’t have anything against developing a good picture book into a good short film*. We show features length movies occasionally at the public library where I work during the summer, on no school days, at most perhaps 8-10 per year (probably fewer) and very occasionally use them in our storytimes.

But your first action on a literacy night is to show a movie???? This just seems incredibly counter-intuitive to me. What about literacy games? Story boxes? Doing a short skit with two staff members and some puppets or stuffed animals modeling reading as a family. If a “gentle call to family reading” is desired, why not actually read a book together?

The rest of the evening is a story-teller or librarian doing a read-aloud, passing out a “goody bag of resources” and time for questions. In my experience, once I’ve turned on a film, that’s it. The kids’ brains are gone and they aren’t interested at the end of the movie in a live person doing something. This is precisely why the day after getting my braces, I read two stories before I turned on a book-based film in my storytime. At the very least, wouldn’t you wait until the end when attention spans are lost or going?

Of an hour of the proposed program, twenty minutes is spent in some manner of reading, though most of the story-tellers I know tend not to actually use books or use them scantly, which doesn’t model good reading together. So it is quite possible to do an entire evening without ever actually opening a book. How does this promote family literacy?

I recognize there are many kinds of literacy, particularly when one delves into the myriad segments of information literacy. But when working with younger children we tend to err on the side of the physical reading of books. There are so many games, activities, and take home ideas that are available that you can develop while the parents are actually there with their children. And if they’ve come, they are there to get some early literacy and family literacy ideas.

Why would you waste fifteen precious minutes on a video?

* I particularly am looking forward to seeing Mo Willem’s Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus