Story time big deal to little folks

Volunteers love to entertain library's youngest patrons

October 29, 2006|By Lisa Goldberg | Lisa Goldberg,Special to The Sun

With children's books propped up on the steps behind her and stuffed animals strewn all around, Karen Kuebler settled herself on the floor at the Pikesville library, nestled her 2-year-old son on her lap and began to read and sing.

"Today we're going to talk about feet. Does everyone have feet?" she asked the babies who toddled or crawled or just sat smiling on the blankets in front of her. "Show me your feet."

For the next 12 minutes, Kuebler, her face elastic, her voice lilting, gave dramatic readings from books on feet and toes, sang about body parts and held stuffed animals upside down to look at their feet.

The scene is one Kuebler has repeated monthly for the past year at the Baltimore County Public Library system's Pikesville branch - albeit with a different theme and different books and songs each time.

As one of the library system's nearly three dozen Story Timer volunteers, Kuebler is responsible for picking out reading materials and entertaining the libraries' youngest borrowers: babies and toddlers younger than 2.

"I love the energy you get from the children," said Kuebler, a part-time dance teacher at the county's new Windsor Mill Middle School. "I love that I'm sharing books with them and how important books are."

It's a mantra echoed by other volunteers as well, retirees and working folks alike, who spend hours perusing bookshelves, choosing songs and preparing programs at the county's 17 library branches for their selected age group - either the under-2 set or children ages 2 to 6.

"I loved teaching kids to enjoy books. That was a great gift to me," said Jean Satterfield, a Story Timer volunteer at the Parkville branch and longtime educator. Satterfield now serves as a regional Baltimore County public schools administrator. "So to do this ... for me it's like going to yoga class. It's very relaxing."

The Story Timers volunteer program was started in the summer of 2002 as a way to centralize reading programs for the library's youngest patrons, a group that studies have shown thrives when introduced to books early in life, according to Kathy Casserly, the early literacy volunteer coordinator for the library system.

With centralized programming came more consistent training for volunteers, she said. These days, new Story Timers must go through orientation and a mentoring process that can last up to six months, she said.

By the end of the mentorship, in which experienced volunteers train new Story Timers, the new recruit gets an evaluation "to see if they're confident enough to fly on their own," Casserly said.

Some of the volunteers, like the Randallstown library's Perketer Tucker, date to the earliest days of the program.

Tucker, an education specialist for the State Department of Education, said she initially became involved through a class she was taking at the Community College of Baltimore County's Catonsville campus.

"It keeps me connected. I still love teaching," she said. "I love connecting with children. To see their eyes and faces light up - it's fun."

In an age with so much technology, she said she enjoys seeing children "go back to the basics."

She said she's been asked to read the same book more than once during the same story time. Her monthly sessions, in the library's children's area, have at times run as long as an hour.

"As long as they're interested in listening to literature," she said, "I want to sit there and read to them."

While some Story Timers, like Tucker and Satterfield, read to the older children, others, like Kuebler, focus on the babies and toddlers through a separate Baby Boosters story time.

Kuebler, who started volunteering in November when her son Antonio was 15 months old, still brings him to every session - and runs each new program by him first. If Antonio, who helps his mother lead the monthly sessions, hates a book, it's a no-go, she said.

"I love the opportunity to be creative with the program," she said.

At Kuebler's September session, a total of nine babies and toddlers - and their parents and grandparents - trickled into the library's meeting room to listen and play.

For Esther Polirer, the scene was a familiar one. She brought 7-month-old Lexi with her this time, but her son, Avi, 3, has been a fixture at story times all across Baltimore County in the past, she said.

"I like that it stimulates them in a different way than I can do at home," said Polirer, a Pikesville resident. "There are only so many times they can hear me read the same books and hear me sing the same songs."

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