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It's not too late for summer reading programs

Posted: July 29, 2008 1:21 a.m.
Updated: September 29, 2008 5:01 a.m.

When it comes to building a child's reading skills or even perfecting the English language, the thousands of books at the local libraries provide a wealth of opportunities for parents and their youngsters.

"The bottom line is: There are the books and they're for free," said Marc Winger, superintendent of the Newhall School District.

Because children's books are expensive, Winger views the local libraries as important resources for parents.

"If you go to the library, they have the latest and award-winning books," he said. "It's just a matter of going and knowing how to work the system."

But the library isn't a location for just checking out books, because coordinators of the Los Angles County-run establishments constantly sponsor programs geared at getting kids to read.

Darcy Hastings, children's librarian at the Valencia Library, said local branches are currently hosting summer reading programs, which are based on "keeping kids reading during the summer so they don't lose the skills they've learned."

Plus, the program is attractive for many youngsters because kids are eligible for a variety of prizes based on the amount of points they save up by reading.

Another interesting program is the "Read to a Dog" held one Saturday a month at the Valencia Library.
Hastings said therapy dogs which have been trained to interact with children are brought into the children's section of the library by their trainers.

Children are then able to choose their favorite book, find a comfy place to sit and read to their new four-legged friends.

"The child gets to read to a non-judgmental audience," Hastings said. "The child knows that nobody is going to correct them."
Because the dogs are "so gentle and reassuring," Hastings said children end up reading just for the sake of reading.

"It's so wonderful," she said. "Nobody interrupts them."

On top of the "Read to a Dog" program, another mainstay at the local libraries is story time, which has taken on new forms ranging from a session that invites kids to wear their pajamas to another that helps Spanish-speaking children.

"Our libraries have story time for babies, toddlers and preschoolers," Hastings said.

While the times of the events will vary, Hastings said parents can find frequent story sessions at their local branch, whether it's at the Canyon Country, Valencia or Newhall location.

With every story time, Hastings said the focus remains on teaching basic reading skills like distinguishing rhyme schemes and understanding the plot of the story.

But at the Newhall branch, story time has turned into an opportunity for Spanish-speaking children to build their English skills.

After assuming the position of children's librarian a little over a year ago, Kelly Behle said she soon realized that Spanish was a primary language for many of the people who visited the library.

Although she does not speak Spanish, Behle said she wanted to create a bilingual story time that would benefit Spanish-speaking children, but also those who speak English.

With some help from Spanish-speaking aides, Behle initiated the weekly bilingual story time, in addition to the classic story sessions.

Although the last session will be Aug. 11 (bilingual story time will be picked up at the Canyon Country Library in the fall), Behle believes she has created a way for Spanish-speaking youngsters and their parents to maintain a connection to their culture.

With each weekly session, Behle said she chooses Spanish rhymes, songs and books that would not only benefit the children, but give their parents a way to reflect on the stories they heard growing up.
"It's not just Mother Goose translated into Spanish," she said.

But at the same time, Behle strived to make a worthwhile experience for English-speaking youngsters and their parents by translating the story.

"I try to keep the integrity of it," she said.

The bilingual story time also led to something else Behle hoped for: It gave the parents of Spanish-speaking children an opportunity to meet and help each other out.

Along with learning English themselves, Behle said, a "nice benefit I've seen those parents networking with each other."

Superintendent Marc Winger said bilingual story time is a way for children to learn English, especially if only Spanish is spoken at home by the parents.

By getting kids involved in reading through story time, Winger believes the library can create a way to "bridge that gap between Spanish and English."

Nevertheless, as Winger considers it important for a child to be exposed to both the home (Spanish) and school (English) language because the language spoken by parents can be just as important.

Even though the bilingual story time is ending in the coming weeks as Behle, who coordinates the program, will soon be leaving the library, she said the branch does offer a Spanish language collection for adults and children.

"We're working on developing that collection," she said.

The bilingual story time is expected to start sometime in September at the Canyon Country Library, according to children's librarian Lori Schwartz.

But parents of Spanish-speaking children don't have to wait until the fall to bring their children to Canyon Country.

Schwartz said the library offers its own collection of books in Spanish, along with CDs and cassette sets in Spanish for children.

In addition, the children's assistant is bilingual.

And while wandering through the aisles of the library on your own or taking a seat in front of the library's computers may seem like the easiest way to find books, Hastings believes it's easier to just ask the librarians in person.

"The neatest thing I think about a librarian is, with our education and background and experience, a parent, and more importantly a child, can come to us," Hastings said.


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