4-C Literacy Backpack Series: “Literature as a Way to Support Social Emotional Growth”

When Supporting Families Together Association (SFTA) funded 20 staff from their member agencies to attend the “Training of Facilitators for Positive Solutions for Families” in April, 4-C Referral Specialist Ruth DeNure from Madison was one of them. The training, a 6 to 8-week parenting curriculum, guided attendees in how to support children’s social emotional growth, and provided free social emotional themed children’s books to participants. Ruth left with the books, but also with an idea to use them in guiding parents at 4-C Play & Learns to better support their children’s social emotional growth.

“I wanted to use literature as a way to support social emotional growth, and to not just think of a book all by itself but as an avenue to start discussions,” said Ruth. “A book can actually be a conduit for that.”

With the ideas and materials from the training, and support from the SFTA Family Literacy Backpacks1Engagement Specialist, Ruth created a series of Literacy Backpacks that parents participating in 4-C Play & Learns can check out and take home to use with their children. Each backpack contains activities and ideas focused around a children’s book that addresses social emotional issues. The handout included in each backpack reads,

“Parents/caregivers who read to their children every day and talk about what they are reading together promote a joy of reading and literacy achievement. Literacy Backpacks encourage reading at home and support the role of parents as educators.”

Ruth has currently completed eight literacy backpacks, so that the program can officially kick off in September with four backpacks for each of the two teams of teachers at the 11 different 4-C Play & Learn sites. Creating the backpacks and their content has proven fairly cost-effective, since Ruth primarily used the books from the training and materials from the 4-C Resource Room and Play & Learns. As the program moves forward Ruth plans on evaluating and expanding the program based on its reach and feedback from participants.

What’s Inside a Literacy Backpack?

Each backpack contains a book, 4-5 story extender ideas for parents/caregivers to do with their child, and a folder with additional story extender ideas and materials explaining the importance of early literacy and the purpose of the Literacy Backpacks.

David Gets in Trouble Backpack

Sample story extender activities from the “David Gets in Trouble” Backpack:

  • “How does David feel?” activity: Pictures of David from the book are provided with different facial expressions. Children can match his expressions to the correct emotion, then parents can ask children questions about that emotion in their life (a.k.a. When was a time you felt happy? How do you feel today?)
  • Feelings Bingo: Bingo cards offer children different situations where children have to guess what emotions that situation would cause. For example, how might a girl getting a surprise party feel? Children can place a Bingo piece on the emotion listed on their game card that they think fits the situation.
  • “The things I can do” activity: Children work with their parents to identify ways they can help around the house. For instance, feeding the fish or putting away their things.
  • “Faces show feelings” activity: The object of this game is to have fun while learning about feelings and facial expressions. The child and parent each choose a marker.  Each player rolls the die and the person with the largest number goes first.  For younger children:  When the child lands on a face, they must make a face like the one they land on and tell about what makes them feel that way.  For older children:  When the child lands on a face, they must tell about a specific time when they felt that way.  The first person to the finish line is the winner.
  • Auditory Discrimination: Parents can read the book in a happy, sad or other emotionally charged tone. Children can share the differences in how they felt about the story when it was read through different emotions. Parents and children can talk about how our tone can reflect our feelings, and how that can affect others.

Stay tuned to the 4-C website for more information on this program and other services that 4-C provides.


SFTA Quicks Tip 1: So you want to start a child care business?

QuickTips_Build Child Care Business

“When I work with group providers or teach my Administration of Child Care Programs class, I always tell providers your three best friends are your lawyer, your accountant, and your banker. They will have your back like no one else will.”

– Toni Kutner

Early Childhood Technical Consultant


1. Your lawyer- Legal advice is crucial as you plan your location and space, how your business will function day-to-day, and how to structure the policies and standards that will make your business solid.

2. Your accountant- Setting up a sound financial framework before you go into business ensures you consider all of the costs that come with starting a business and thoroughly vet cost options. Plan one step at a time so that your money is put to good use and your business steadily grows. It is best if start with at least three months of your child care operating costs in reserve before you even go into business.

3. Your banker- Smart management of your finances over time is a skill. Your bank often has experts who can help you with this management, so that you are always aware of how much money can be allocated to different areas of the business. Take your business plan in to discuss with your banker. Show them you are serious about this so they want to invest in you, and can give you helpful feedback.

If you don’t have these professionals available to you, at least have someone you can talk to who is knowledgeable in each of these areas as you set out to build a solid, sustainable business. Or, take some business courses to learn some of these skills on your own! The key thing to remember is to never get into binding financial or legal agreements without being certain you can follow through. Because if starting a child care business is your dream, then why not do it right?

For more ideas about starting a child care business check out:
SFTA’s “Getting Started” Page
Child Care Toolkit for Purchase
Family Child Care Center Policy Handbook
Child Care Aware’s Preparing a Budget 

Play to Learn


1. Go for a nature scavenger hunt. Have a list of specific things to look for, or just point out what you notice in nature along the way. Talk about what is outdoors but not from nature (cars, buildings, etc.)

2. Have a nature “treasure hunt.” Send kids to explore a contained outdoor area and find a few things from nature to come back and share, (flowers, rocks, leaves, bugs, etc.). Talk about what they found and why they picked their items.

3. Have some quiet time to draw or paint what you see outdoors—get creative! Or paint nature itself—collect leaves, stones, and sticks to paint, or arrange them into a work of art.

4. Snowy out? Bundle up and go outdoors to talk about how the snow feels, tastes, looks. Or bring some in to see what happens—why does it melt? What changes?

5. In autumn make a leaf pile! Take turns jumping in, or talk about how the leaves feel, how they are different than in summer, spring, or winter.

6. Pick a tree, or natural area near you to observe throughout the seasons. Check in together at different times through the year to see how it changes, how it browns in summer, turns colors in autumn, goes bare in winter, etc.

7. Get a little messy! Find some mud to play with and see what you can make with it, how it feels, what happens when you dig into it or pile it up.

8. Collect flowers or leaves to press and keep. Talk about what is not okay to take from nature, and why.

9. Start a garden! Let the children help choose what to plant and help care for it. Talk about why and how things grow and the process of their growth over time as you observe. Discuss what you could do with the flowers, vegetables, etc. once they are fully grown.

10. Have some outdoor water play, either with a sprinkler or blow-up pool or in a sensory table. Get out the rubber duckies, the boats, and the buckets, and plan to get wet! Talk about what the water feels like. Why do we need water? What does it do for us? For plants and animals? What are some things we do with water? Brainstorm!

These are only a few ideas for outdoor play. Post your unique ideas to share with fellow early child care professionals and the families they work with!