Pratt to expand child literacy program

Six library branches to get 5-week project

February 27, 2000|By Jamie Stiehm | Jamie Stiehm,SUN STAFF

At the Enoch Pratt Free Library, babies and toddlers are welcome to get their own library cards. In 2000, their numbers might grow faster than ever.

Next month, the Pratt will begin expanding its Family Place Project childhood literacy program to six more city branches, in part through a $500,000 grant from the Carnegie Foundation announced last summer.

Library officials said the five-week program, in place at the Brooklyn and Cherry Hill branches, will be offered at the Dundalk Avenue, Pimlico, Patterson Park, Govans, Forest Park and Waverly branch libraries, with new programs opening from March to May.

Family Place Project offers caregivers and young children younger than age 3 a way to feel at home in a library through an organized play group, said Ellen Riordan, the Pratt children's services coordinator.

The central library on Cathedral Street will eventually offer the Family Place Project, library officials said.

"It's moved from a pilot program to a commitment to serve the population in a more systematic way," Riordan said. "This expansion shows it's on its way to being institutionalized."

The free program, designed by a New York nonprofit organization, Libraries for the Future, is meant to strengthen family-based services in public libraries. Family Place Project also is in place in Hartford, Conn.; Providence, R.I.; White Plains, N.Y.; and Cobleigh, Vt.

With 10 to 15 pairs of children in a weekly session, the group is sufficiently small for informal learning in an enriched environment, Riordan said.

In each session, a different "resource" person -- such as a doctor, nutrition expert or social worker specializing in hearing and speech -- is on hand to offer advice and answer questions a mother or caregiver might have.

In a room separate from library stacks, a librarian interacts with the children to nurture their social, cognitive and pre-reading skills, Riordan said. With toys, books, crafts and a tunnel-like tent set up on the floor -- no chairs allowed -- the children are encouraged to follow their fancy for 90 minutes.

The sessions conclude with a song and rhyme circle.

Encouraging ease with books at a young age in a familial and community setting, Pratt librarians believe, is the best way they can promote literacy -- and library cards -- later.

Pediatric experts say something as simple as turning the pages of a book and seeing its images can help to condition a baby or toddler to see a book as something to handle and read later in life.

Parents can sign up for the sessions, which are free, at the participating library nearest them. Though starting dates vary, the first new program will start at the Dundalk Avenue branch Wednesday.

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