As acting head of the children’s department at the Columbus Public Library, Lyn Seaman has read some of the library’s children’s books over and over during storytime sessions.
But no matter how many times she’s read a book, she still enjoys watching the children clap, smile and repeat the words of their favorite story.
“It just gives the children a love for reading and for books,” she said.
Reading to children before they start school is also important, she said, because it helps them acquire a variety of pre-reading skills, such as letter knowledge, an awareness of phonics and a wider vocabulary. Children who are read to every day for at least 20 minutes a day enter pre-kindergarten with a vocabulary of about 1,500 words, Seaman said, while children who are not read to enter pre-k with a vocabulary of about 500 words.
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“Their brains at that age are more active than that of a college student,” Seaman said. “Catching up is hard to do.”
The Muscogee County office of the University of Georgia’s cooperative extension service is emphasizing the importance of reading to children during April as part of Month of the Young Child, a statewide effort to promote teaching and learning for children who are not yet in school.
“We’re focusing on reading to all children, from birth to four years old in the month of April,” said Joanne Cavis, the administrator at the extension service. “That’s one of the most important things any adult can do with any child.”
The office held a workshop for local daycare and preschool providers last week, focusing on reading and storytime activities. All of the participants in the workshop were given two books -- “I Smell Honey,” by Andrea and Brian Pinkney and “Feast for Ten” by Cathryn Falwell -- as well as a list of suggested activities for children.
Both books focus on food and being active, so suggested activities included having a classroom-wide feast or letting children cut out pictures of food and make a feast collage on paper plates.
But most children’s books can adapted into a fun story time activity. Tasheena Williams, a teacher a Taiylor Tots Academy at the workshop, said they have storytime every day and often use puppets to act out different books. For Eric Carle’s, “The Very Hungry Caterpillar,” the preschool has a large “caterpillar” tunnel that kids can crawl through.
“We also add music or different types of play movement,” Williams said. As the children try more activities, “you see the different types of development in them,” she said.
Cavis said reading and storytime activities are experiences that engage a child’s senses and help develop connections in the brain.
Reading is two-way communication, she said. Children listen and watch the adult reading to them and the adult in turn can ask the children questions and help them learn words.
“That’s why TV is so bad for infants -- it’s one way communication,” Cavis said.
Cavis encouraged parents and caregivers to begin reading to children as infants. Infants can identify faces and will turn their heads toward sound, she said.
“They get the flow of language and a sense of words and they like it when it’s all ooey-cooey and expressive,” Cavis said. Seaman said board books are best for babies, because they can treat them like toys and put them in their mouths.
When children grow into toddlers, they learn names, how to turn a book’s pages and that book is read top to bottom.
“Toddlers should have books with big pictures and one or two lines on a page,” Seaman said. When a child has a vocabulary of about 50 words, parents can start dialogue reading -- asking the child open-ended questions about the book that encourage them to think like, “What do you see on the cover of the book?”
For children that don’t want to sit still and listen to a story, Cavis recommended reading a book in stages, a few sentences at a time, and looking at the pictures.
“My grandson reads on the run. He loves books and loves to read, too -- he just doesn’t sit still very long,” she said. “Start young before they are movable.”
Seaman said she doesn’t mind when children get up and move around during storytime at the library, as long as they don’t disrupt the other children and parents. If a child becomes fussy or too loud, she advises parents remove them from the room briefly but bring them back to storytime after they’ve calmed down.
Cavis and Seaman both recommended the library for parents or caregivers who don’t know what to read or feel stuck reading the same children’s books over and over again.
Seaman said children like to reread the same books over and over because “it makes them feel comfortable and safe,” but for those looking to branch out, the library has lists of age-appropriate books for children.
“Just read,” she said. “It doesn’t matter to a baby what you’re reading. It just matters you’re reading.”