What’s an Octicorn? Did you know that dragons love tacos?
How do you get back up after a big fall?
Students and faculty in UNLV’s College of Education are helping kids find the answers to these questions through children’s books. But since local libraries and schools are closed down amid the coronavirus pandemic, they needed to get a little creative in order to get the stories into the hands of children.
Through read-aloud videos that are uploaded to YouTube, UNLV faculty, students, and colleagues all around the world are recreating story time for kids — virtually.
“One of the things that’s most loved for kids from preschool all the way through elementary school is read-aloud time, story time,” said Kenny Varner, associate professor of literacy, and director of the Gayle A. Zeiter Literacy Center at UNLV. “They’ve had that stripped away from them. In some ways this helps to replicate their favorite part of the school day, and can also help provide some structure to their days.”
College of Education Executive Associate Dean Danica Hays conceptualized the project and along with Varner and colleagues from the Zeiter Literacy Center have created an online library of nearly 50 read-aloud stories for parents and their children — and even teachers — to access. They’ve also compiled other videos and additional resources for parents and teachers on the Zeiter Literacy Center website.
Videos are uploaded daily, so children can go back each day to access new content.
“Parents, on top of worrying about work and potential unemployment, have been thrust into the role of teacher,” Varner said. “And teachers don’t have access to their classroom libraries, so this helps them access a wider variety of books.”
On the YouTube channel, kids can access stories featuring animals named “Toby Zebra,” and “Pete the Cat,” or characters named “Fancy Nancy” and “Junie B. Jones.” They’re brought to life by UNLV professors and student teachers, and as well as readers from places across the U.S. and around the world, including Chile and Argentina.
Videos are available in Spanish, too.
“We’re making a concerted effort to continue to diversify the languages, and to also diversify the content,” said Hays. “It’s important to expose children to culturally diverse stories, too.”
It’s also important, Varner said, to get children to think critically. As students and teachers read the books, they pose questions to help facilitate learning.
“It’s not just about reading a story, or picking up a book at bedtime,” Varner said. “We’re hoping to push their comprehension. We want to see them extend ideas from the story, and relate ideas to personal experiences.”
“A reader is able to express emotion through the way they read words,” she said. “There are built-in questions that you can ask students, such as, how a character in a story might be feeling, or why something is going on. What might a character have said or done differently? It’s also important for a child’s own reading development to hear the fluency of how reading is done.”
In addition to helping the kids, teachers, and parents in the community, the project also benefits UNLV student teachers, Hays said. Through the project, student teachers have the opportunity to stay connected with their students, and also complete their requirements for licensure.
More broadly, Hays and Varner hope their project sheds light on how difficult it can be — even in normal circumstances — for children to access books outside of school.
“Going to the library for a lot of families isn’t as easy of a task as we may think it is,” Varner said, adding that he would love to reach out to authors of children’s books and ask them to record their own stories for use on UNLV’s website.
“This has given us time to reflect on how we can use our digital resources differently.”