Libraries aim for youngest of patrons

Emphasis: Officials vow at a recent symposium to enlarge upon their role of helping parents promote early learning.

May 23, 1999|By Mary T. McCarthy | Mary T. McCarthy,CONTRIBUTING WRITER

HAGERSTOWN -- The relationship from infancy between parent and child is a key factor in educational readiness -- one in which libraries can play an important role, library administrators were told at a symposium here last week.

"We now know that the parental relationship is a hidden regulator for later brain patterns and behavior," said Janet DiPietro, a child psychologist and professor at the Johns Hopkins University who was keynote speaker at the Maryland Association of Public Library Administrators meeting.

"There is a plasticity to biology. It is affected by the child's environment," DiPietro said, adding:

"The best thing parents can do is to take the emphasis off early learning of academic abilities and pushing kids to do things early, and shift the focus to the fun, warm, loving aspects of the parenting relationship. A positive, healthy relationship between a child and parent is what will help him the most in future learning environments."

The association's Birth to Four Task Force sponsored the symposium with the Maryland State Department of Education's Division of Library Development and Services and the Ready at Five public-private statewide partnership, whose goal is ensuring that all children arrive for their first day of school ready to learn.

The conference focused on school and reading readiness, recent early brain development studies, and creating effective state and local partnerships for library services.

A central issue was the role of libraries in promoting programs targeted toward early learning and brain development.

In July, the association created the Birth to Four Task Force to focus on how Maryland public libraries could become more effective partners in the statewide initiative to have every child start school ready to learn.

"Reading and language development are critical skills in education," Richard Steinke, deputy state schools superintendent, told the symposium -- the first time that library personnel from each of the state's 24 subdivisions had been present at a statewide brainstorming session.

Each of the subdivisions -- Baltimore City and the state's 23 counties -- has renewed its "commitment to ensuring that every child is not only a functional reader, but a person who loves and enjoys reading," Steinke said.

"Maryland is fortunate to have one of the most rich and fertile library systems in the country, and I daresay in the world," he continued. "Our libraries present first group experiences for children, and very importantly, we are helping parents learn how to read to their children."

One such effort -- among dozens of local initiatives across the state -- is Carroll County's "Books for Babies" program, a partnership between the library system and the Westminster Women's Club.

It provides packets for newborn babies that include a "Baby's First Library Card: Gold Card for Future Success and Happiness." It may be redeemed for a real library card.

"I really think library cards should be given out just like Social Security cards -- at birth," said Charlene Uhl, executive director of the Ready at Five Partnership. "There is a wealth of resources for parents at the library that can help them help their children.

"Reading readiness starts at birth. The libraries are ready to help parents at all stages of development through information, materials, programs, and interactions with the community. The library is a place where children and their parents are always welcome."

Kathleen Reif, director of the Wicomico County Free Library and chairwoman of the Maryland Association of Public Library Administrators, said: "As soon as a parent has a baby, they should bring the baby to the library, meet the librarian, and take advantage of the rich resources and programs available.

"A child's potential is so much better with enriched activities in the first few years of life. The library is a great place for parents to start."

Steinke said, "Libraries and parents alike need to encourage in small children a delight in reading and a delight in the English language. A library is a haven, an island of tranquillity in a busy world, and a place where children can escape into the fertile, supportive world of words."

Pub Date: 5/23/99

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