Michigan `passageway' inspires a `Storyville'

Baltimore County library plans a learning center


On her way to visiting her mother in the Midwest, Baltimore County library official Lynn Lockwood stopped to see two projects designed to engage children.

In a Michigan library, she found a "passageway" lined with educational activities for kids - and inspiration for the county library system's newest project.

"Storyville" is a 2,000- square-foot learning center planned for the Rosedale branch of the county library system.

For the youngest children, there will be Baby Garden, with manipulative toys, textured flowers and a peekaboo window. Toddler Bay will be a Chesapeake scene designed to help children age 18 months and older develop motor and language skills, using a crawl-through tunnel made of what looks like driftwood and a rocking boat and a fishing game at a pretend waterway.

Storyville also is to include an area for preschoolers, with a store that will change occasionally from a grocery to a farm stand to a pet store and a theater with a changeable marquee, costumes, puppets and props. It also will have a construction site with interactive activities, enabling children to build a wall and design a building, as well as count and sort.

Each section will have age-appropriate books and materials relating to the theme of the area.

The activities will include instructions and explanations of the skills they are designed to develop. The design is meant to introduce children not only to reading, but to math, science and social studies, said Marisa Connor, early childhood specialist for the library system.

Lockwood, assistant director for support services for the county library, said: "For a number of years, we've been very interested as a library system in helping children start school ready to learn."

Mary Alice Bond, curriculum specialist for the Johns Hopkins University Center for Social Organization of Schools, said Storyville could help children work with parents.

"I think anytime you give families and communities more ways in investing with kids, especially with literacy, it's definitely worthwhile," Bond said. "If the library does this right, which I'm sure they will, they'll help parents so they know what to do and help them play with their kids. Not everybody is as comfortable as the next guy."

Connor said the Rosedale staffers are receiving training to help parents and caregivers make the best use of the center.

"It's exciting," she said. "There's nothing like it that exists for free for families. The parents don't have to pay for it, and they'll learn a lot and their children will have fun, too."

The project, with an estimated cost of $427,000, is to be paid for through donations raised by the Foundation for Baltimore County Public Library.

"We wanted to make it a destination that is not only attractive to the child, but also to the parent," said Debbie Thomas, the foundation's executive director. "We wanted not just an exciting environment, but to make it a learning tool. Everyone can wish they were a child again."

The plans were unveiled Saturday at a foundation fundraiser, where the organization expected to raise at least $60,000. Through fundraising efforts, which also include direct mail donations, gifts and corporate sponsorships, the foundation has raised about $270,000 toward the project, officials said.

Thomas said the foundation is seeking a builder. Although hopes are for the center to be open by the end of next year, there is no firm completion date for the project.

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