The principal is coming to Kelsey Kolb's house in the middle of the afternoon.
But Kelsey can't be in trouble. She's only a year old and just beginning to walk and talk.
And the principal is smiling and bringing a balloon.
What's wrong with this picture?
Not a thing, says Linda Proudfoot, the principal of Battle Grove Elementary in eastern Baltimore County.
Kelsey is at just the right age to be read to, and the school wants to be sure her parents know this. So Kelsey is receiving a "Happy Birthday, Baby" visit from her friends at the neighborhood school.
Bearing books and balloons, Mrs. Proudfoot goes to the North Point Village homes of one-year-olds, encouraging their families to read to them and expose them to books and language, so that they'll be ready for school when they get there.
Her program, created on a shoestring budget of about $500, is part of a national movement to make schools integral to neighborhoods and hook youngsters early.
Battle Grove is the only county school with the birthday giveaway, though schools, libraries and hospitals throughout the county are trying other programs to encourage early reading as the best way to get youngsters ready for school.
"The educational literature says more and more that if you don't have children ready to learn when they get to school, it's extremely difficult to get them ready," said Lynn Lockwood, coordinator of information, marketing and programming for the Baltimore County Public Library.
Mrs. Proudfoot also acquaints families with the school and its resources.
"We want to let them know that we're here for them," she said. "We have a nurse. We have a speech pathologist. We want them to feel welcome" -- long before their youngsters are ready for kindergarten.
The school librarian, Deborah Nelson, who also makes birthday visits, invites the parents to use the school library if they need books for their pre-schoolers.
She also passes along tips on developing language skills:
"When you read to her, try to point out the words as you read them," she advised Kelsey's mother, Nancy Kolb, as they looked over the children's classic, "Goodnight Moon."
"When it starts to get dark [in the book], if you make your voice softer, a lot of children respond," Mrs. Nelson continued. Meanwhile, Kelsey, whose first birthday was April 27, was responding nicely to the book by chewing gently on its cardboard cover.
Mrs. Nelson also suggested reading to children daily, particularly at bedtime. "If you do start that pattern . . . it will stand the child well." At 1, children have developed enough visually to focus on books, and they can also detect rhyming words, another milestone in language development, she said.
"In a very subtle way, we're trying to give them parenting skills," she said. "They get so much advice about having a baby, but at that one-year mark, it really falls off."
Kelsey was the sixth birthday baby to be feted by the school since the program started in January. So far the response has been good, though some families are skeptical when the school librarian calls and wants to stop by, Mrs. Nelson said. "But once we get there, they ask questions and seem to warm to the school."
That is the real benefit of the program, said Clayton Myers, supervisor of the county school system's early childhood programs. "It establishes a link to the school with parents who may not have any contact with the school until the child is 5 years old," he said.
With two children older than Kelsey, Nancy Kolb is a familiar face at Battle Grove Elementary, so the birthday call was not a get-acquainted visit for her. Nevertheless, she appreciated the gesture.
"This is great," said Mrs. Kolb. She particularly liked the book the school gives parents: "Read to Me: Raising Kids Who Love to Read." That, she said, would be helpful with her older children, Chucky, 7, and Kelly, 11.
The children's father, Charles Kolb, also attended Battle Grove, where his second-grade teacher was Linda Proudfoot. "This is a very stable community," said the principal, who began her teaching career at the school she now heads.
Mrs. Kolb said she has been encouraging other mothers to contact the school about "Happy Birthday, Baby." So far, the school has relied on its newsletter and word of mouth to publicize the service.
This year the school is one of only three in the county to have a program for 3-year-olds. Four mornings a week, 15 youngsters come to Battle Grove for a nursery school program that stresses language development, said Mr. Myers. "We're trying to give them a head start."
The school also has a program for 4-year-olds, in addition to its regular classes from kindergarten through fifth grade.
With "Happy Birthday, Baby" and plans for a 2-year-old play group next year, "we'll have them from age 1 to 10, and that feels real good to us," Mrs. Proudfoot said.