Library's 'grandparents' provide extra attention for the youngest patrons HOWARD COUNTY SENIORS

April 28, 1993|By Dolly Merritt | Dolly Merritt,Contributing Writer

Every Thursday morning, Susan Frey, 65, arrives at the children's section of the Miller Branch Library and takes out her bag of tricks.

Onto a table marked "Grandparent on Duty," she unloads a tote bag of scratch-and-sniff stickers, yarn, buttons and books. Then the Ellicott City resident sits down on a child-sized chair and proceeds to read stories to any preschool child who will listen.

Mrs. Frey is one of five volunteer "grandparents" who spend one to two hours each week reading to children at the Miller Branch Library. More than a dozen volunteers are involved in the library grandparent program, which represents the Howard County Central, Savage and Miller branch libraries.

The program is available Monday through Friday in all three libraries.

"In 1980, we noticed that there were a lot of people in Columbia whose parents were not in the area and were not able to see their grandchildren," said Georgianna Price, a senior library associate at Howard County Central Library. "We thought it would be a nice idea if children could interact with senior citizens."

As a result, inter-generational programs involving crafts, dancing and storytelling were introduced at the Central Library in 1980. The grandparent-volunteer program began six years later.

"We can have one or eight children a day; it differs," said Tanis Hadley, children's librarian at the Miller branch. "Some grandparents do activities with the children; some ask us to choose the books; others choose their own. One grandmother uses our rocking chair with the children on her lap whenever she reads stories," said Mrs. Hadley.

The chair blends easily among the books and scattered toys that are often used by the preschool children.

Ms. Hadley pointed out that a grandfather who speaks Japanese is among the volunteers.

"The children -- whom he greets in Japanese -- are thrilled with him," she said.

On a recent Thursday morning, Mrs. Frey was greeted by a youngster wearing a Mickey Mouse headband.

"Hi, Natalie," said Mrs. Frey. "Would you like to make a book mark?"

Twenty minutes later, Natalie was proud of her creation and talked about a rabbit named "Early" who was the main character in a story Mrs. Frey had read to her.

"She knows just how to speak to the children on their level," said Kellee Dougherty, a Catonsville resident whose two children, Patrick, 2, and Sean, 5 months, are regular Thursday morning visitors.

"I've always been around children," said Mrs. Frey, who grew up in a family of 15 brothers and sisters, and has two children and four grandchildren of her own.

She also easily recites the names of her 33 nieces and nephews and 47 great-nieces and great-nephews, a skill she attributes to the experience of knowing the names of so many relatives.

Mrs. Frey says she got involved in the program seven years ago after reading a newspaper ad seeking volunteers.

At first, she relied on the librarians' choice of books. Later, she started bringing in books that her own grandchildren enjoyed.

"As I went along, it got better. So many children are eager to learn stories. Children love books," she said.

Mrs. Frey spent her scheduled time -- 10:30 a.m. to 12 noon -- helping children color a 3-inch paper dinosaur named Barney, scratching out a sniff of jelly beans from a sticker, and reading various holiday stories. One last mother arrived with her two children, Maria, 6, and Kristine, 3.

"I just wanted to thank you," said Linda Latham, an Ellicott City resident who began a full-time teaching job in September.

"You have been a wonderful help to Kristine throughout the transition of my going back to work. Kristine looks forward to her weekly visits with you. You are in the family tree now," she said.

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