Little Readers workshop

Laurie Gill, founder of the Little Readers Program and reading specialist at Blowing Rock School, works with Nia Kaufman (left) and Abbigayle Rich (right) during the workshop on Thursday, June 13, at Watauga County Public Library.

BOONE — Reading doesn’t always come easy for children, but a new program at Watauga County Public Library is offering a way to help emergent readers develop their literacy outside of the classroom.

The Little Readers Program, founded by reading specialist Laurie Gill, aims to introduce young readers to new vocabulary through the use of finely calibrated short books. Gill, who teaches literacy at Blowing Rock School, founded the program with the hope of providing a free, simple way for parents to work with their children beyond the classroom.

“A lot of parents try to help their kids, and they just don’t know what to do,” Gill said. As a result, parents end up going online and spend hundreds of dollars on programs that may not necessarily be worth the money, she added.

The program sorts the tailored books into sets of 10 for each reading level. Each book is intended to strengthen a child’s “sight vocabulary,” or words that they can immediately recognize. By introducing words in the context of a story, children are more likely to commit them to memory.

“The engine for growing a stable sight vocabulary in memory is reading real books,” Gill said. “These are little baby steps to the next level.”

Once a child learns all of the words in one book, they can move on to another within the same reading level until they’re ready to move up to the next level in the program. Currently, Watauga County Public Library has levels A (lowest) through N (the equivalent of Grade 3) available for checkout.

Darrell Morris, reading clinician and retired professor of reading education at Appalachian State University, worked alongside Gill at Appalachian State before she joined Watauga County Schools. Morris said that the program is unique compared to other programs he’s seen throughout his career.

“It’s very innovative,” Morris said. “You’re not trying to drill kids on skills. You’re trying to get them in books that are at the right level for them.”

Morris added that one of the biggest problems for children learning how to read in kindergarten and first grade is they don’t get enough practice. He attributed this problem mostly to time constraints and outdated learning materials in schools. With the Little Readers Program, he said that the key to its success is how well the program can be modeled for parents to learn how to effectively work with their children.

“If parents get a hang of it and can work with the kids,” Morris said, “it could make a big difference for these kids.”

To model the program for parents, Gill held a workshop on Thursday, June 13, at Watauga Public Library. During the workshop, Gill worked with two rising first-graders as they read through one of the books. Parents looked on while Gill gave them pointers for helping their children learn new words.

Laura Kaufman was one of the parents who attended the workshop. Her daughter, Nia Kaufman, who just finished kindergarten, was one of Gill’s students at Blowing Rock School. Kaufman said that the program has been helpful in allowing her daughter to develop her reading skills and break out of her shell.

“She was at first really shy,” Kaufman said. “She’s blossomed now.”

Kaufman also noted the benefits of having the program available at the public library.

“Coming here, it’s new and different,” Kaufman said. “I think it creates a place where they can really be focused, whereas at home there’s all these distractions.”

Funding for the program was provided by a Dollar General Youth Literacy Grant received by Judith Winecoff in September 2018. The grant awarded $3,000 to Watauga County Public Library, which was then used to purchase all of the books.

For parents looking to learn more about the program, Gill said to reach out to Winecoff at Watauga County Library to set up an appointment. Parents can also visit the library’s Facebook page to see when Gill will hold her next workshop.

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