The Coastal Star

Boca Raton: Library’s backpack program helps kids get ready to read

The Early Literacy Backpack program is giving Suzanne Endruschat’s daughter, Maggie, 4,

a head start on developing her reading skills.

Photo provided

By April W. Klimley

    Maggie Endruschat just turned 4, but she’s already getting ready to read — and enjoying it — says her mother, Suzanne, thanks to Boca Raton Public Library’s new Early Literacy Backpack program launched in April.
    The libraries offer 12 backpacks that parents can borrow: six at the downtown branch, six at Spanish River. Each backpack is filled with books, toys, educational puzzles and even puppets and stuffed animals.
    The idea is to help children up to 5 years old become familiar with the concepts of reading — such as the alphabet, phonics and storytelling — and thus prepare them for learning to read in kindergarten.
    The themes of the backpacks range from the basic ABCs and numbers to pets, bears, toys and bugs. The program is based on the six skills identified by the American Library Association for successful reading readiness: print motivation, print awareness, letter knowledge, vocabulary, phonological awareness and narrative skills.
    “All the backpacks were checked out in about a week,” says Amanda Liebl, the library’s youth programs director. Liebl says that many parents found out about the program during story time for their tots. Now there is a waiting list.
    Maggie has already gone through the ABC and Number backpacks, so she was ready for new themes, according to her mom. The bear backpack is based on the popular folktale of Goldilocks and the Three Bears. It contains a stuffed bear, several board books, a puzzle in a frame, a lacing card and laminated sheet with pictures of the three bears story.
    Suzanne Endruschat, who works in accounts services for the library, says Maggie has enjoyed all the backpacks so far. And now, with the bear backpack, her little girl has started telling the three bears story herself. Maggie points to different pictures on the laminated story sheet as she tells the story to her mother.
    Lynne Holloway, collection services librarian, observes that the backpack program is not just for the children. “It’s for the parents, too,” says Holloway. “The backpacks give guidance to the parents or caregivers.” They enable adults to learn new ways to help their children become “reading-ready,” whether or not the children also attend a day care program where they might be learning these skills as well.
    Endruschat also believes the backpacks benefit parents. “I do think the backpacks are really fun for her,” she says. “But they also give me ideas on how to do other things with her. It makes you think of ways you can engage your child to enrich the stories you tell. It’s all about engaging your kids.”
    A further appeal of the backpack program may be the packaging itself. “The tinier kids see the big kids carrying backpacks for school,” says Endruschat. “So part of the appeal is the ‘big kid’ feel of the backpack.”
    For more information about the Early Literacy Backpack program, visit www.bocalibrary.org.

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