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Kiddy lit: Early reading programs give learning a boost | TribLIVE.com
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Kiddy lit: Early reading programs give learning a boost

Shirley McMarlin
| Monday, January 21, 2019 1:30 a.m

‘kidliteracy’

A group of toddlers gathered with parents and grandparents on Jan. 14 in Adams Memorial Library in Latrobe for a session of the library’s “Wee Read” early literacy program.

It was a little like herding cats for children’s director Karen Herc until she captured their attention with a round-robin activity in which each child was introduced and got a round of applause.

The wee ones then settled in for a half-hour of learning made fun through simple stories, songs, activities and free play.

Similar sessions take place in libraries all around the area, designed to set children on a lifelong path of reading and to help their family members or caregivers foster that love of the written word.

If they have some fun and make a buddy or two in the process, that’s a bonus.

Starting early matters

“The more exposure, the better, when it comes to reading and literacy,” Herc says. “Starting as early as possible makes a big difference. Teachers say that the kids who (have early exposure to reading) are usually reading at a higher level.”

“Libraries understand how important they are in promoting early literacy, socializing and parent interaction and parent education that promotes it — and not just in reading but in promoting other learning activities, too,” says Kathleen Harris, dean of the Seton Hill University School of Education and Applied Social Sciences.

Using a story about farm animals as an example, Harris says typical features of a successful program could include the children and adults first listening to the story, then engaging in related finger play, acting out the animals, talking about the book and even creating their own animal stories.

Giving the children some sort of story-related token to hold also helps them to engage.

Programs also include simple songs and rhymes, puppets and time in a learning center for free play and interaction with others.

No one is left out

Getting children engaged from the get-go is key to a successful program, says Kayla Johnson, children’s librarian at People’s Library, which has branches in New Kensington and Lower Burrell.

Since kids ages 1-6 are welcome at the People’s programs, Johnson says her philosophy is, “Never leave a kid out, no matter how small they are.”

Or how shy, she adds: “We get some kids who are shy, some kids who aren’t so verbal, so my goal is to get them to open up and tell what they want to do.”

Johnson does that through stories, activities and crafts focused around a letter and word of the month. Making stories active, incorporating movement, and engaging different senses and keeping conversation flowing helps to keep all the different ages entertained, she says.

“Play is embedded with literacy,” Kathleen Harris says. “Play is the primary way our children are learning.”

Rhythm and rhyme

“I really credit the parents who see the value of bringing their really young children to these programs,” says Janie Mason, children’s librarian at Greensburg Hempfield Area Library. “Learning is so much easier at this age — they’re eager little sponges — and they can learn the rhythm and rhyme of the English language even before they can speak.

“Early literacy is critical, it really makes a difference in lifelong learning,” she says. “They learn to love opening the pages of a book before they’re required to read a book that they don’t want to read.”

The Greensburg library is offering a twice-monthly Tot Time for children from 8 months to 2 years through April.

At the Jan. 14 session, children’s library staff member Lauren Harris said she uses a “Dr. Seuss-Mother Goose format” with her young attendees: simple stories punctuated with singing, musical instruments, puppetry and movement, including kids bouncing on parents’ laps.

“The evidence that it works is that kids who come more than once remember the songs and have their favorites,” she says.

Sue Maga of Greensburg brings her 11-month-old grandson, Wyatt Maga of Unity, to the Latrobe library program.

“We want to get him acclimated to reading and to other kids, and to a lifetime of learning and a love of books,” she says.

“Toddlers are very, very smart,” Kathleen Harris says. “They understand more than they can say. With storybook reading, they’re learning syntax, vocabulary, phonological concepts and concepts of print.

“Children are engaged by learning new words and responding to questions,” she says. “The key is conversation.

“When you’re reading together, there’s also more bonding, which can be a challenge especially if both parents are working.“ (Early literacy programs) are providing a foundation for learning and for forming close relationships, but also for enhancing independence.”


Shirley McMarlin is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Shirley at 724-836-5750, smcmarlin@tribweb.com or via Twitter @shirley_trib.


Shirley McMarlin is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Shirley at 724-836-5750, smcmarlin@tribweb.com or via Twitter .


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Shirley McMarlin | Tribune-Review
Children’s library staff member Lauren Harris introduces a toddler to her elephant puppet during the Jan. 14 "Tot Time" program at Greensburg Hempfield Area Library.
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Shirley McMarlin | Tribune-Review
Children’s director Karen Herc shares a picture book with Ava Ulishney, 2, of Unity and other toddlers during the Jan. 14 “Wee Read” program at Adams Memorial Library in Latrobe.
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Shirley McMarlin | Tribune-Review
Children’s library staff member Lauren Harris shares a story during the Jan. 14 "Tot Time" program at Greensburg Hempfield Area Library.
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Shirley McMarlin | Tribune-Review
From left: Patti Sias and her granddaughter Ava Ulishney, 2, both of Unity, join Sue Maga of Greensburg and her grandson Wyatt Maga, 11 months, of Unity for the Jan. 14 "Wee Read" program at Adams Memorial Library in Latrobe.
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Dan Speicher | Tribune-Review
Nehemiah Scott, 5, of Rector, enjoys reading a book on his own, while his younger siblings participate in Wee Read at Adams Memorial Library in Latrobe, on Tuesday, on Jan. 15, 2019. Nehemiah Scott, 5, of Rector, enjoys reading a book on his own, while his younger siblings participate in Wee Read at Adams Memorial Library in Latrobe on Jan. 15, 2019.
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