Take 5 program brings books to county's preschool students

A program created to enhance at-home learning during the pandemic has returned this year and grown to support the literacy education of even more preschool students this spring.

Marshes of Glynn Libraries expanded this year its Take 5 book bag initiative, launched last year in a pilot version. Take 5 is a countywide distribution of weekly bags that includes books and learning materials that promote family engagement at home.

Teachers began gifting the weekly bags Feb. 28 and will continue until the week before spring break.

“We have five weeks that each pre-K student in Glynn County Schools is getting a bag a week, and each bag is on one of the five skillsets from the American Library Association’s Every Child Ready to Read (program),” said Geri Mullis, director of Marshes of Glynn Libraries. “And those are talking, singing, writing, reading and play.”

Each bag has three books, a flyer with information for parents and guided activities that families can do together.

For example, the bag with books and activities meant to promote the talking skillset includes binoculars and an “iSpy” game meant to prompt conversations between the child and their parents that will build vocabulary.

The library received a grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services to distribute bags to every preschool student in Glynn County’s public school programs this spring.

Additional funds through the Literacy for Learning, Living, and Leading in Georgia (L4GA) program will be used to purchase, pack and distribute bags for students in HeadStart, private daycares and home daycares. Mullis said the plan is to get those to students during summer and before the next school year.

The ultimate goal is to reach every preschool student in Glynn County through this initiative, she said.

Spreading the program over the course of the year helps library staff and volunteers with the Friends of the Brunswick-Glynn County Library and the Literary Guild of St. Simons manage the massive task of getting all the bags organized and packed. For the distribution going on now, staff and volunteers packed more than 2,600 Take 5 bags.

“As you can imagine, doubling that at one time is quite a feat,” Mullis said. “So it will be helpful to spread that out a little bit as well as just some logistics in storage.”

The Take 5 program began last year thanks to a donation from the Phoenix Fund through the Communities of Coastal Georgia Foundation. The library’s bulk book purchase was so cost-effective that money was leftover for this year’s program, and additional donations from the Literary Guild of St. Simons and the IMLS allowed the library to expand Take 5 this year.

Last year, 200 students received bags, and this spring 500 in public pre-K programs will. Approximately another 500 in HeadStart and private and at-home day cares will receive books later this year.

The library is actively raising funds to continue the program next year as well.

Whitney Bailey, a pre-K teacher at C.B. Greer Elementary, said her students ask daily now if it’s “bag day” and gets excited for each weekly gift.

“I’ve asked parents how they like the bags, and they’ve said they have enjoyed the activities at home, but really just spending the one on one time enjoying a new book,” Bailey said. “Early literacy is such a key component to getting children on a level playing field when it comes to academics.”

Sending the Take 5 bag home each week exposes children to quality literature they can keep keep and revisit any time, she said.

“With the books being sent home, the student can practice what they already know — tracking words left to right, finger spaces between words, even letter recognition,” Bailey said. “This program gets quality books into the hands that need and want it.”

Paige Tiller, a pre-K teacher at St. Simons Elementary, said first she noticed her students having conversations about the books they took home. Then, parents began talking with her about how their children were responding at home to the activities.

“They mentioned how the books allowed the children to become their own storytellers and exposed them to some new things like different languages and simple science books,” she said.

The Take 5 program has also created a strong tool parents can use to engage in phonics education with the students, Tiller said.

Stephanie Thompson, pre-kindergarten director for Glynn County Schools and principal at FACES/Leaps & Bounds preschool, expressed her gratitude to community donors who have made it possible for local students to receive the Take 5 bags again this year.

“Take 5 is an awesome program that allows parent-child interactions at home using literature,” she said.

Families can never have too many books at home for their children, she said.

“The Take 5 program increases each child’s home library and also provides activities for the parent and child to complete together,” she said. “Each weekly theme also provides a ‘parent’s guide’ with suggestions and ideas on how to share the book and explains the importance of the five weekly themes.”

Each bag also includes information about how to sign up for a library card as well as a QR code for an online survey parents are encouraged to use for feedback. Last year’s surveys were all positive, Mullis said, and made clear that families benefited from Take 5’s pilot.

“In general I feel like the surveys showed that parents appreciated some of the additional suggestions and guidance on what we were communicating with the program,” added Ben Bryson, assistant director of Marshes of Glynn Libraries. “And it was information that they didn’t feel like they were getting otherwise.”

The program is able to help connect what students learn in their preschool classrooms with what parents can do at home to support their education. In the midst of the pandemic, that communication became especially critical.

“It was really nice just to have these physical books brought into the home,” Bryson said.

Take 5 allows the library to reach a much more widespread audience than its in-person programming or other smaller scale initiatives, Mullis said.

“We do know through research and through our own programming in the past that being able to engage the family in family reading time always equals success,” she said. “And it’s success as a family, coming together over books.”