Vernon Area Public Library Goes High Tech For Parents

At the Vernon Area Public Library in Lincolnshire storytime is serious business.

The library's early literacy programs incorporate a wealth of research and professional knowledge. Each program is structured to provide stories, songs, rhymes, finger plays, and other activities that are age-appropriate, along with teaching parents about best practices for early talking and reading.

Fortunately for parents, the academics can be boiled down to five easy-to-remember words: "Talk, sing, read, write, play. These are the five foundational skills that every adult can practice with their child every day," said Heather Hageli, early literacy librarian at the Vernon Area Library.

These five practices are based on a body of research showing that the amount and tone of parent-child interaction that happens from newborn through age 3 is a strong influence on that child's later success in school.

"These parents know that verbal engagement and reading are important and have all the best intentions. Our job is to provide encouragement, support and advice," Hageli said.

To help parents know whether they are "on target" with the amount of verbal interaction they are having with their infant or toddler, Vernon Area Public Library was an early adopter of the Starling wearable engagement tracker and makes the devices available for checkout.

The Starling is a small wearable device that counts the words a child hears throughout the day. The device pairs with a smartphone app, which not only shows parents (and the organizations they work with) meaningful data on their interactions, but prompts them to speak more with daily tips, guidance, and even weekly challenges. The result is parents who read, speak, and sing more to their children, increasing their children's vocabulary and reading readiness.

The Vernon Area Public Library officially became a Starling Partner and purchased Starlings in 2017. "The Starling seemed like a perfect fit," Hageli said. "The device is featured in our Grab and Grow PLUS Packs, which also include picture or board books, a children's music CD, an interactive toy, and a copy of 'Thirty Million Words: Building a Child's Brain' by Dr. Dana Suskind."

The library is also boosting their storytime sessions with the Starling.

"We are having the librarian wear a Starling of their own while running the program and then showing parents at the end how many words their children have heard during the session," Hageli said. "It's a great way of reinforcing that message about the importance of talking, reading, and singing with babies and young children."

Hageli emphasizes strong interest in the Starling from parents who attend story time.

"We get a lot of interest," she said. "Parents want to know what it does, and want to learn more about how much they should be talking. And the Starling Grab and Grow packs are very popular - someone always has them checked out."

Parents can learn more about the Starling, the library's early literacy programs, and the important research showing the link between early verbal interaction and school success at a free event in February. Dr. Dana Suskind, author of "Thirty Million Words: Building Your Baby's Brain" and founder of the Thirty Million Words Initiative will speak at a free public event hosted by the library at 7 p.m. on Monday, Feb. 12. For more information or to obtain tickets, visit the library's calendar of events at

To learn more about VersaMe, the producer of the Starling, visit

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