Beyond the Shelf: Preschool Storytime helps spell out a path to early literacy

Beyond the Shelf logo
(Daniel K. Lew)

Beyond the Shelf is a monthly column about the activities and people at the La Jolla/Riford Library.

Seventy-eight children and caregivers trekked around the library on March 23 in search of all 26 letters of the alphabet.

The pure joy on the kids’ faces delighted the accompanying grown-ups as cute little fingers pointed to letter after letter, with exclamations like “R is for rocking horse!” or “S is for stairs!” ringing through the air.

This A-B-C Hunt was a big deal — the grand finale of our A-Z Preschool Storytime series focusing on a different letter of the alphabet every week. Naturally, it followed a story time about the letter Z. Every child participant was awarded a La Jolla/Riford Library-branded set of coloring pencils, which was then used to ensure the zebra made it all the way to the zoo in a specially made letter Z coloring sheet at the end of the program.

For 26 weeks we celebrated 26 letters, one letter at a time. Each story time ended with a crafting activity, and you can see each unique creation prominently displayed in the library children’s area. We cut, pasted, counted and glittered, but most importantly, we learned. Many thanks to the Teen Troupe and National Charity League volunteers who prepped many of the crafts. Favorites include the pasta made out of yarn for letter P and the alligator purse for letter A.

A story time guest participates in a crafting activity.
(Katia Graham)

Preschool Storytime is based on talking, singing, reading, writing and playing — the five practices of Every Child Ready to Read, an early-literacy outreach program. Discussing the theme at the beginning of each lesson strengthens the children’s phonological awareness as we sound out each letter. It also motivates print recognition as I write out words that kids call out starting with each letter — “What sound does Z make?” “Can you think of some words that start with the letter Z?”

At the beginning of Letter Z Storytime, a little girl named Zoey smiled bashfully when her name appeared on the white board. Many in attendance were please to find they happened to be wearing zippers.

Every Child Ready to Read is designed with caregivers in mind. I have my story time sidekick Tipster the Turtle deliver advice for adults. Tips include things such as “Run your fingers along lines of text while reading to show your child the words mean something” and “Ask questions before, during or after a story to prompt critical thinking.”

Upon reading a book called “Buzzy’s Boo-Boo” by Harriet Ziefert at the final letter story time, I asked the children if they had ever had a boo-boo before. Nobody admitted to it. However, a majority voiced zeal for fun Band-Aids they have at home.

Children's services librarian Katia Graham (in front of the window) leads a Preschool Storytime about the letter Z.
Children’s services librarian Katia Graham (in front of the window) leads a Preschool Storytime about the letter Z at the La Jolla/Riford Library.
(Provided by Katia Graham)

A very sweet 4-year-old named Gigi is usually the first to call out Tipster’s name when it’s time to deliver the tip of the day.

“Reading has come to life for her,” said her grandmother, proudly sharing how Gigi has started performing story times for family and friends. Hearing this is heaven to me because a story time goal is to cultivate narrative skills — the ability to describe what happened and express oneself effectively.

Enrolling in the 1,000 Books Before Kindergarten reading program is a terrific complement to Preschool Storytime. Last month, twins received a certificate for completing 1,000 Books Before Kindergarten, becoming the first duo whose joint photo was added to our 1,000 Books wall of fame in the library. Getting My First Library Card is another crowning moment for kids.

Preschool Storytime takes place at 10:30 a.m. Thursdays. A new series on different colors begins April 6.

We have a variety of other story times to choose from, each led by capable staff or volunteers and each with its own flair:

• Seaside Storytime with Big Bubbles: 4 p.m. Wednesdays

• Bilingual Storytime in Spanish, Tagalog, Farsi or French: 10:30 a.m. Wednesdays

• Toddler Storytime: Noon Tuesdays

• Baby Storytime: Noon Mondays

The point of all our story times is to encourage bonding not only with reading but also between caregiver and child.

Katia Graham is the youth services librarian at the La Jolla/Riford Library. To sign up for the weekly e-blast she sends to patrons, visit To sign up for 1,000 Books Before Kindergarten, visit