Children learn the value of 'Starting With Words'

October 09, 1994|By Rafael Alvarez | Rafael Alvarez,Sun Staff Writer

You can teach your children to love books even if you don't know how to read.

"Don't be afraid of books, sit with the child, and talk about the pictures," said Susan Tibbels. "Learn to feel comfortable with a book."

Mrs. Tibbels, director of New Song Community Learning Center in West Baltimore, watched 40 neighborhood preschoolers take home new books yesterday. The program is called "Starting With Words," and it is New Song's latest effort to renew the face of Sandtown.

The key is an old one: parents as a child's primary teachers.

Be they married or single, mom or dad, literate or illiterate, parents make the difference in whether or not a child succeeds in school, Mrs. Tibbels said.

In this preschool literacy program, parents have homework. It is simple stuff: singing with their children, quietly talking with them about good things, turning the pages of a book together, attending monthly instruction meetings, and paying a $5 monthly fee.

If the parents fail, their children are dropped from the project, a heart-breaking decision said Mrs. Tibbels said, but a necessary one. Other parents are waiting to get help for their children, she said, and deserve a chance if other families don't live up to the deal.

The children -- 3- to 5-year-olds who received a free copy of "Clap Your Hands" from the nonprofit First Book group -- will be tracked through grade school.

"A child's educational fate is decided by the first grade, sometimes even that's too late," asserted Mrs. Tibbels, who discovered in after-school programs that most Sandtown children read below grade level. "We're going to follow these children to see if they're still reading for pleasure in elementary school, are they reading at the head of their class? If you don't have a book to read, how can you possibly begin to love learning?"

Destiny Hope got a free book yesterday as Baltimore Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke and state school Superintendent Nancy Grasmick watched.

The 3-year-old took it home to North Stricker Street, where she lives in a Sandtown Habitat for Humanity house, a building renovated with her mother's sweat-equity and the vision of the New Song ministries.

[Sandtown Habitat, directed by Mrs. Tibbel's husband, Allan, has worked with residents to renovate 35 homes in the area just southwest of North and Pennsylvania Avenues since 1989. Chronically poor and under-served, the neighborhood is the focus of several rehabilitation projects, including work by the Enterprise Foundation founded by developer James W. Rouse.]

"When it's time for bed, she gets a book and says: 'Mom, I want to read this,'" said Dana Kirby. Ms. Kirby, who holds sweet TTC memories of hearing "The Cat in the Hat" read to her as a child, said Destiny has a designated shelf for her books, the beginnings of a personal library.

"I think kids express themselves more with books than TV," said Doris McFadden, Destiny's grandmother and a regular contributor to the child's collection. "They want to know what's going on."

Owning books -- knowing they can be pulled down from the shelf anytime one pleases -- is a profound piece in achieving literacy, ,, according to librarians.

"By the age 3, ownership of anything is very important to a child. If you imbue them with a love of reading and then give them a book to keep, the connection is obvious," said Selma Levi, head of the Central Pratt childrens' department. "There's a change when it becomes their book."

It's a change that Susan Tibbels wants to see continued throughout the life of Destiny Hope, her preschool classmates, and anyone else that New Song reaches in the blocks around its Presbyterian church and school at 1385 North Gilmor St.

"When Destiny grows up and is working in a learning center, then my vision will be fulfilled," said Mrs. Tibbels. "I'll be happy when they have families and can read to their children."

WANT TO HELP?

If you'd like to contribute or talk about volunteering for the New Song literacy project, call Susan Tibbels, 728-2091.

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