Library gets little ones into the reading act, too

Summer program aims to develop literacy skills in children to age 4


News from around the Baltimore area

July 11, 2005|By Danny Jacobs | Danny Jacobs,SUN STAFF

Laura Rose Holt's reading list includes Madeline, Clifford the Big Red Dog, and her favorite book, Max Drives Away, about a rabbit who wants ice cream for breakfast instead of cereal. But one month before her third birthday, the closest Laura Rose comes to reading is picking up a book and pretending.

Instead, she listens to books read by her mother, Julia, as she did on a recent morning in the play area of the children's section of the Towson library.

Reading a book together is just one of the activities in the Read-to-Me Club, a new summer reading program at the Baltimore County Public Library. The program is designed to help children like Laura Rose develop literacy skills and an appreciation for books and reading.

The Holts, Towson residents, have already completed all 12 activities on the Read-to-Me game board.

"It has lots of great ideas about what you can do with them," Julia Holt said, as Laura Rose built a tower out of plastic blocks in the play area.

The Holts are one of thousands of families that picked up the game board for the program, which targets newborns through 4-year-olds and continues through Aug. 13. Parents and caregivers can register at any county library branch and pick up the single-page Read-to-Me game board. Children who complete at least six of the listed activities become eligible for a prize, such as a small stuffed ball covered in a tiger print.

While some of the game board's activities involve books - reading together, picking out a library book, learning to turn pages - others do not involve reading at all, such as imitating animal sounds and singing a song with a finger play. But each activity is connected to developing a child's literacy skills, said Marisa Conner, an early-childhood specialist with the county library system.

Recognizing different animal noises helps a child learn about the differences in sounds, for example. And the finger play involves rhyming, a proven precursor to good reading skills, she said.

The practice of introducing kids to reading at as young an age as possible has become more widely promoted as studies disproved old theories that learning to read begins with formal schooling, Conner said. "The skills you need to learn to read develop at birth," she said. "Language and literacy are inseparable."

Read-to-Me was started as a result of last summer's reading program, when 3,000 of the record 29,000 participants were ages 4 and younger, said Andrea Shore, a programming specialist with the county library system. Even without a specific program for younger children in place, parents modified the regular game board used by children ages 5 to 12, she said.

Individual county library branches have run summer reading programs since the 1950s, and the unified, systemwide program has been in place since 1978, said county library spokesman Bob Hughes.

Nearly 16,000 kids have registered for this summer's reading program, Hughes said. While the total has not been broken down yet by age groups, Hughes said all 4,915 of the Read-to-Me game boards have been taken and a second printing has been ordered.

Lisa Hughes (who is not related to Bob Hughes) already completed a game board with her 11-month-old son, Brian. Hughes, a Hamilton resident, decided to join the Read-to-Me Club after Brian became interested in books through Baby Boosters, another county library program for children to age 4.

Hughes reads Goodnight Moon and The Very Hungry Caterpillar to Brian every day, and the two visit the library once every few weeks. An early exposure to books can only help young children as they get older, she said, adding, "Before they go to preschool, I think it's good to expose them to everything so they'll be well-rounded."

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