PNC Students Develop Children’s Early Literacy Program


PNC student Abby Vittatoe interacts with youngsters taking part in the “Library Sprouts: Growing through books and play” at the Westville-New Durham Township Public Library.

A class of Purdue University North Central Early Childhood Education majors is helping local youngsters establish and build their literacy skills.

The students in the course “Literacy & the Young Child” have designed a library story time and family literacy program called “Library Sprouts: Growing through books and play” at the Westville-New Durham Township Public Library for children from birth through age 3 and their families.

In each of the program’s four sessions, the youngsters receive a free book to keep so that they can establish and grow their at-home libraries and enjoy the books over and over. They also receive a tote bag so they can easily transport their books.

The program was inspired by Westville community member Bridget Kraemer who suggested to Dr. Mary Jane Eisenhauer, associate professor of Early Childhood Education, the idea of creating library programming for young families. It was a natural fit for Eisenhauer and her students who are preparing to teach children from birth through age eight. Library Director Courtney Udvare welcomed the group, even opening the doors early to accommodate the young readers.

Before its first meeting, the program reached its capacity with 16 youngsters enrolled. Each child must be accompanied by an adult caregiver – usually a parent, grandparent or childcare provider.

Community agencies also cast their support. Dunebrook, a LaPorte County child-advocacy organization, donated the first set of books for the children to take home. The book, “The Big Red Barn” by Margaret Wise Brown, carries special memories for  Kraemer as it was the first book she and her twin boys, who are now fifth graders, received when they first attended a library story time.

The Unity Foundation of LaPorte County and the PNC Strosacker Endowment for Early Childhood provided vital financial support.

Eisenhauer explained that literacy skills are key to a child’s intellectual development, enhancing emerging speaking, listening, reading and writing abilities. She cited research that indicates children who have many books at home achieve three more years of school than children in homes without as many books, regardless of the parents’ education level. Of primary importance is having a parent and child read a storybook together.

The PNC students created a number of activities for the children and adults to enjoy – reading, storytelling, singing, fingerplays and interaction of making new friends.

PNC student Abby Vittatoe said that she is thrilled to have the opportunity to work with young children and their parents. “This is what I want to do when I graduate,” she explained. “It’s great to be able to work with the parents too. Everyone is so positive and so willing to help.”

She noted that as a professional, it will be vital for her to build relationships with parents and the students have developed activities for parents to try at home to support their child’s learning.

“Every parent wants to help their child,” she said. “We give them new ideas or help build on things they are already doing.”

Student Kim Snyder noted that the broad range of ages of the participating children is an asset as she helps to develop curriculum for the young learners.

For student Anne Lute, this is the first time she’s worked with children so young, with some being less than a year old.

According to Eisenhauer this is an ideal experience for all involved, “Young children are exposed to a rich literacy experience in a positive, nurturing language-infused environment. Future early childhood teachers apply the best practices in literacy instruction. Families learn the importance of literacy and how to be enthusiastic models of language and literacy for their children. The community gains understanding of early literacy and its relationship to school readiness.”

The students will continue the program as part of their “Child, Family, School and Community Partnerships” this spring semester. As the program progresses, the students will evaluate their work and continue to promote and develop the program.