Growing an Early Literacy Initiative in Wisconsin

By Tessa Michaelson Schmidt
Public Library Youth and Special Services Consultant, Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction

Early literacy reading programs have deep roots in Wisconsin public libraries; librarians have been offering story times for young children for decades. In 2013, an idea sprouted: How could we bring early literacy efforts in the library to the whole community, all across the state?  Growing Wisconsin Readers is a new statewide, public library-based early literacy initiative that brings together caregivers of young children and early childhood advocates with a simple message: Read to your child!

A tip sheet developed for the Growing Wisconsin Readers initiative

A tip sheet developed for the Growing Wisconsin Readers initiative

Using an integrated brochure, poster, and mobile-friendly website, all published in English, Spanish, and Hmong, this new initiative provides resources to caregivers (e.g., parents, grandparents, guardians, childcare providers) about how to read effectively with babies, toddlers, and young children. Posters and brochures can be found in Wisconsin’s 380+ public libraries. More importantly, these materials are provided to and distributed by childcare facilities, medical clinics, religious centers, and other community locales frequented by families with young children.

Written for adults in accessible (non-academic) language, the brochure and website identify developmentally appropriate reading habits, recom­mended authors, and key facts about early literacy practices as related to brain development and school success. The brochure and poster are customizable by local libraries (i.e., contact information and story time schedule). To maximize visibility and access to the Growing Wisconsin Readers website, the materials also include a QR code.

A young girl with alphabet magnets

Learning to read begins with A, B, C in a southwest Wisconsin public library

As part of the rollout of the initiative, 40 libraries received small grants to establish or enhance early literacy projects. Through either a “1000 Books Before Kindergarten” reading program or an early literacy activity area, libraries developed projects that foster early literacy skill building for children and adults. Whether reading books at bedtime or engaging in literacy play activities at the library, caregivers learn how and why reading experiences are so important for little ones.

GWR early literacy display

An inviting early literacy activity area in a northwest Wisconsin public library

The Growing Wisconsin Readers initiative aims to support caregivers of young children with information about early literacy so they can prepare children for learning at school and beyond. Children exposed to early literacy activities and reading experiences are better positioned for success in school and success in life. Growing Wisconsin Readers reinforces this message at community locales and across the state via public librarians and early childhood advocates. As the initiative grows, we plan to provide tools and resources to libraries for customizing community projects with early learning components. At the close of year one of this three-year initiative, everything is coming up roses.

Growing Wisconsin Readers is coordinated by the Public Library Development Team (PLDT) at the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction (DPI) and supported by Library Services and Technology Act (LSTA) funds awarded to the DPI by the U.S. Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS).

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4 Responses to Growing an Early Literacy Initiative in Wisconsin

  1. LPR says:

    “Children exposed to early literacy activities and reading experiences are better positioned for success in school and success in life” – couldn’t agree more.

  2. Our ‘Play with Your Food’ display has been a BIG HIT here with lots of crying kids wanting to stay FOREVER in the library. Our intended audience was preschool, however children up to 7th grade have regularly shown up to sit and play as well! Thank you again for such a fun grant.
    Julia Metcalf, Director
    Oxford Public Library

  3. Claire says:

    Children can make up the funniest stories. Love the 1000 books before kindergarten.

  4. A great initiative for the state of Wisconsin! Our library received a Growing Wisconsin Readers Mini-grant to enhance our early literacy play space. We’re experiencing a story time renaissance right now– through play, caregivers are connecting with their children while building early literacy skills, and the caregivers REALLY GET IT! Kids love the variety of our playboxes– something new every week! We’re making some great community connections too. Thanks Tessa!