ABINGTON, Pa. — Penn State Abington students majoring in elementary and early childhood education led a series of workshops at the Abington Township library that provided evidence-based support for parents on selecting diverse literature for their children. The presentations were part of a course that examined the development of language and self-expression in young children and the role of children’s literature.
Müge Olğun-Baytaş, assistant professor of education, explained that to prepare for the presentations, four of her students met with the Carolyn DuBois, the township library's head children’s librarian, to learn about the process behind selecting books.
“In the course and with the librarians, we talked about social justice in children’s books and play and how we can use books and play to help children understand these issues. We are providing information that can help parents talk through books to their children about race, disability, immigrants, inclusion and other social justice experiences,” she said.
“The workshops also helped our pre-service teachers practice talking to parents and build connections with the local community,” Olğun-Baytaş said of the workshops, which fulfill Penn State’s land-grant mission of supporting individuals and communities through service and education.
After the third session at the township library, the Abington students, who are all juniors, reflected on its outcomes.
“I didn’t see these types of books as a kid, and this course and the presentations made me realize it is possible to talk with younger kids about these topics. It makes for a more accepting classroom,” Molly Fuhrmeister said.
Bethany Smith was reminded that people are open to adding to their personal toolkits as parents.
“Parents may not realize how impactful literature is with children’s books. They can often see themselves, too, in those books, and it was great that they came out to learn more to support their kids,” she said.
The students also discussed how the experience impacted their thought process as they build their classroom libraries.
“It was amazing being able to see how many books there are based around social justice issues. But each book has its own bias, and you need to be careful about which books you choose to be in your classroom,” Rhiannon Budnick said.
The last evening focused on books about immigrants and families in children’s literature. The students suggested specific titles to parents after explaining terms such as undocumented, refugee and immigrant, and working through activities to build connections among the group. They also showed a brief video about the lengthy process of becoming a U.S. citizen.
“It’s important that children understand what it takes to be a citizen in our country and that everyone is entitled to basic human rights,” student Lucy Stewart explained.
After recommending books such as “My Powerful Hair” by Carole Lindstrom and “Where Are You From?” by Yamile Saied Mendez, the students facilitated discussions about ways parents could explain the messages to their own children.
The parents and children went home with tote bags filled with several hardback books that were paid for by a Penn State Abington Chancellor’s Grant, which also funded the supplies for the workshop.
About Penn State Abington
Penn State Abington provides an affordable, accessible and high-impact education resulting in the success of a diverse student body. It is committed to student success through innovative approaches to 21st-century public higher education within a world-class research university. With more than 3,100 students, Penn State Abington is a residential campus that offers baccalaureate degrees in 25 majors, accelerated master's degrees, undergraduate research, the Schreyer Honors College, NCAA Division III athletics and more.