What's more fun than getting to see live llamas up close? How about reading about them with some of your favorite people?
Many Central Minnesota caregivers will tell you their kids wanted to attend Llama Llama Read-A-Rama at St. Cloud Great River Regional Library to check out the gentle herbivores in the parking lot. Jaime from St. Cloud said, "We had heard about the event in the past. We came because our son just really loves llamas." While the chance to see live llamas may have been a draw to United Way of Central Minnesota's annual downtown literacy event, there was much more in store than the llamas.
Llama Llama Read-A-Rama featured many fun and engaging activities and attractions that support all of the elements that make up literacy ̶ speaking, listening, reading and writing. Many community organizations that support literacy came together to help with the event, and United Way of Central Minnesota forged the partnerships that brought Llama Llama to the community. We continue to find ways to mobilize the caring power of Central Minnesota and improve literacy in our community.
Llama Llama sees continued success
In 2020, the decades-long event was canceled. In 2021, Llama Llama turned into a "walkabout" attraction, held outdoors at several downtown parking lot locations: at the United Way of Central Minnesota, the St. Cloud Great River Regional Library and the St. Cloud Police Department.
Fortunately, in 2022, Llama Llama was held fully in person and both outdoors and indoors once again. In addition to live llamas, participants enjoyed a parking lot engine visit from St. Cloud Fire Department and St. Cloud Police Department officers showed off the canine unit.
Read-aloud story times featured community guest readers and were a centerpiece of the event. Youth readers from education partner organizations practiced and modeled reading to younger attendees along with the City of St. Cloud's RSVP volunteer Reader’s Theater group. Llama-themed arts and craft activity areas were staffed by local groups like No Limit Painting and Great River Children's Museum and helped keep little hands busy.
Early childhood educators Laurie Whitaker and Suzy Amundson from Reach-Up Early Head Start and community navigator Sara McKeever from the St. Cloud Area School District answered questions in the snack area and distributed over 200 "serve and return" cards from a parent resource table. These early childhood experts engaged with caregivers and demonstrated positive social-emotional learning techniques based on conscious discipline principles.
Literacy Begins with Relationships
United Way of Central Minnesota Partner for Student Success's director of education programs, Stefanie Rothstein, says this year's Llama Llama Read-A-Rama event planning was intentional and focused on supporting young attendees and caregivers in developing literacy skills. She stressed that the relationship between learners and caring adults are the space where literacy really develops. But, she acknowledged, some learners may face obstacles in this work. "We know any number of barriers to literacy development may be present, especially for some learners. Some of those barriers are not having access to a wide range of books or a caring adult with the skill, time or confidence to read with the learner. I love this event because it deepens the relationship between children and their caregivers by providing books, space and time for everyone to be present for one another. That naturally fosters literacy, which unlocks one's truest potential. When we know how to speak, listen, read and write, the walls that exist to hold us in will come tumbling down."
Josh K. a caregiver from Sauk Rapids couldn't agree more. "It's great that this event is held at the library. I think it is important for kids to have all kinds of different books available to them because it helps them realize and relate to the characters and get involved in stories on a new level."
Partnership Us LIVE UNITED
This year, the Llama Llama Read-A-Rama event had over 700 attendees. United Way of Central Minnesota partnered with 15 organizations to bring the event to the community. We invited partners especially dedicated to the service of youth and families, like Promise Neighborhood of Central Minnesota, that brought a busload of kids and caring adults to the event. Many participants appreciated the focus on all learners, including multilingual ones, in the selection of featured books and readings.
Since its inception, Chris Mallo, St. Cloud Great River Regional Library patron services coordinator, has been involved in Llama Llama Read-A-Rama. "I think this event is a wonderful time to show our kids the best of our community. There are kids who start playing at this event and five minutes later they are the best of friends. Llama Llama just brings the community together."
Caregivers agree. Heree W. from Sauk Rapids said the event allows for quality family time and brings out kids' creativity. "It is an opportunity for us to spend time together. I hadn't heard some of the stories read here! As a parent, I also like to get ideas about activities to do with my child here."
Emeka and Tiffany from St. Cloud brought their son, Chukwu, a pre-kindergartener, to the event. "He is reading one thousand books before kindergarten so this gives us lots to choose from. We like to expose him to art and reading so Llama Llama just seemed like something we should check out."
What Comes Next
Plans are already in the works for next year's Llama Llama Read-A-Rama. Organizers hope to provide even more opportunities for Central Minnesota multilingual learners to engage at the event and support caregivers as they interact with kids in fun and meaningful ways.
One caregiver sums up the Llama Llama experience: "Our kids may initially show interest in seeing the llamas and reading the llama books, so of course we see and read those. But overall, we just enjoy learning together at this event."
And that's why this event has been so successful for so many years. Books and reading bring kids and caregivers together. But who knew that growing literacy might start by petting a llama nose in the library parking lot?