DES Teachers Foster Early Childhood Literacy

DES Teachers Foster Early Childhood Literacy Through Book Festivals
Posted on 03/26/2019

Speech Pathologist Mary Balfour and Kindergarten Teacher Nicole Decker at Dryden Elementary School have a mission to promote the impact of early literacy and language skills on the lives of young children. By engaging with the Dryden community through book festivals, they aim to help children fall in love with books and words while supporting families in creating excitement around shared book experiences.

After discovering the book “Thirty Million Words: Building a Child's Brain” by Dana Suskind, Balfour and Decker were moved to learn that parents talking and reading with their growing children can significantly improve school readiness and learning abilities. They founded a literacy coalition called ‘It’s Talktime! Dryden’ and began planning ways to collaborate with Dryden families to build children’s language and literacy skills from a young age.

“We thought: How can we share with people the importance of reading to your baby and talking to your baby from birth? Even though you don’t think they’re listening to you, they are,” said Decker.

In January, Balfour and Decker hosted “The Bus for Us” Extravaganza at Dryden Elementary School. This event involved vehicle-themed play inspired by the children’s book “The Bus for Us” by Suzanne Bloom. Craft stations, reading stations and hands-on play stations were set up to model ways for parents to incorporate language into playtime. Children were invited to "drive" cardboard vehicles, go through the car wash, participate in sing-alongs, have their face painted and read storybooks with their families. 

Following the success of “The Bus for Us” Extravaganza, attended by 350 community members, Balfour and Decker began planning another literacy festival. This month, the team pitched an idea for the next event to the Tompkins County Youth Services. They were thrilled to be awarded a Pitch Program grant of $675.00 to use towards the planning and execution of the festival. The team hopes to raise additional money for the event through sponsorships in the community.

Balfour and Decker decided on a theme for the next festival that would resonate with the residents of Dryden: farming.

“There are many families in our district that live on farms and work on farms. It also comes up again and again in our curriculum,” said Balfour and Decker.

The next festival will be called The “Big Red Barn” Jamboree and is set to take place next fall. It will be based off the rhythmic children's book "Big Read Barn" by Margaret Wise Brown, which takes the reader through the animals' day on a farm. The team hopes the event can be held at a central location in the Dryden community to further encourage the idea that reading shouldn’t stop once the school day is over. 

“Reading is not just a school thing, it’s an everybody thing,” said Decker.

Balfour and Decker envision that next fall's book festival will bring families together to celebrate the harvest, learn about Dryden’s rural farming community and discover the power of shared book experiences. They hope to have scarecrow making, interactive animal exhibits, handcrafts from farm products, pumpkin carving, local harvest foods and creative play activities for young children. 

“Our vision is 100% literacy through 100% community engagement. We want to grow the family-to-family, community-to-community, inter-generational connections. We’re hoping that it will take off,” said Balfour.

Interested in getting involved, sponsoring or volunteering with The "Big Red Barn” Jamboree? Please contact Mary Balfour at [email protected].

Mary Balfour and Nicole Decker
Speech Pathologist Mary Balfour and Kindergarten Teacher Nicole Decker from Dryden Elementary School pose with the book “The Word Collector” by Peter H. Reynolds, which they use as inspiration for planning early childhood language and literacy festivals. 

Bus for Us
This January's "The Bus for Us" Extravaganza was a huge hit!