At reading center, spotlight is on the written word

January 17, 1995|By Alisa Samuels | Alisa Samuels,Sun Staff Writer

In this small room, Mary Louise Koch and Neela Knauff allow children's imaginations to expand and run wild.

The women are volunteer storytellers in the 3-month-old Oakland Mills Reading Center's free "Story Times" program offered at the Other Barn in the Oakland Mills Village Center. For half an hour every Tuesday and Thursday, the storytellers read stories to curious 3- to 5-year-olds.

"We're going to do some thinking first," Mrs. Koch told the nine children sitting in front of her last Tuesday. Behind Mrs. Koch stood a bookshelf filled with books such as "Black Mother Goose," "The Little Engine That Could" and "The Cat in the Hat."

She pulled out a book called "Whose Shoe?" with illustrations of a baby shoe, horseshoe, boot and other shoes. "What kind of shoes do you have?" she asked the children. "I have Barney shoes," one boy blurted out.

"Oh, look at these shoes. Who would wear these shoes?" Mrs. Koch asked, referring to a long, funny-looking shoe on a page. "A clown," responded a girl named Melinda.

Later, Mrs. Koch pulled out a brown puppet spider named Spencer to introduce David Kirk's book "Miss Spider's Tea Party." The book tells the tale of a sad spider who could not find any insects to come to her party. "Ah, look at her, she's crying. They've all left her alone," Mrs. Koch said. "She didn't want to eat the bugs, but they just wouldn't believe her."

Mrs. Koch, known as "Miss Mary," then led the children in versions of "Itsy Bitsy Spider" and "The Happy Song."

Area children have enjoyed hearing her recite nursery rhymes and read books since the center opened in October. The reading center replaced the 18-year-old Village Craft Shop, which closed in April, said village manager Erin Peacock. Board members then looked for ways the space in the center on Robert Oliver Place could serve the community.

The board decided a reading center would give children a place to hear stories; adults a meeting place for book discussion groups; and residents a site where they could receive tutoring in a planned literacy program.

"Everyone is welcome to come," Ms. Peacock said, adding that the center is not just for Columbia residents. Volunteers help keep operating costs down, she said.

"It's great fun and really rewarding," said Ms. Knauff, a professional medical transcriptionist who is volunteering at the center. "They're in discovery."

The center gives parents an alternative to crowded story hours at public libraries, Mrs. Koch said.

Oakland Mills Middle School student Wesley A. Gunn painted a mural in the one-room center, depicting a scene from "Alice in Wonderland." Tweedledee and Tweedledum are shown jogging in Tulgy Wood.

Though the program is free, parents must register their children. Only 10 children are allowed in each story-time session, held at 10 a.m. and 11 a.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

"I think being read to is one of the best ways a kid gets interested in reading and in stories," Ms. Peacock said. "They get interested in the written word."

She cautioned: "It's not a baby-sitting alternative. The parents are expected to stay" on premises, usually in the lobby.

Mrs. Koch's final story last week was "Kipper," involving a brown puppy with floppy ears who left his basket bed to search unsuccessfully for a new bed. The dog's antics, including trying to fit into a flower pot and sitting on a lily pad like a frog, stirred laughter.

"He found out his basket was the best [bed] in the world," Mrs. Koch said at the end of the book.

"The children love it," said Paula Stehle of Long Reach, who picked up her daughters Allison, who is nearly 3, and Samantha, 4. "They love the enthusiasm of the teachers."

Ms. Koch, 52, a retired teacher said she uses pictures, puppets and props to grab the children's attention. "I enjoy being with children," she said. "I think reading is so very important and this gives them a good start."

Reticent Patrick Lanni, 3 1/2 , nodded his head, indicating that he liked Mrs. Koch's stories. His favorite part was when Kipper emulated a frog sitting on a lily pad.

His grandfather, Ernest Fecanin of Dorsey Hall, brings him regularly. "He looks forward to it," the retired New Jersey police officer said.

Baby-sitting his grandson is not easy, Mr. Fecanin admitted. "It's easier catching crooks than watching him," he said, laughing.

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