Guest Column: In defense of story time

October 14, 2009

By Rachel Leon

One of the most talked-about proposals to the library budget is the change of hours and elimination of librarian assistants, which would result in the end of story time.
Who cares?

I heard someone say.
So, parents will have to just read to their own children. Big deal.

As someone who has taken my children for almost 10 years and who grew up attending story time myself, I feel compelled to set the record straight.

Story time is more than a proxy-parent reading a book to children. Anyone who has attended one firsthand knows that story time is carefully planned to fit a theme with songs, rhymes, crafts, and yes, stories. What parent has the time to plan something like that for their own children? I read to my children a lot, at times spending hours doing so in a single day. Yet, my reading to them, while important, does not take the place of a story time. When I read to them, we’re reading books my children or I picked out, not ones picked out because of the pertinence to a theme, and I certainly can’t be found doing finger motions to songs.

It is difficult to describe the magic of story time to someone who has never attended one, the magic that happens when your child’s face lights up as soon as the door opens, and he starts scanning the room for a spot on the rug. For someone without small children, perhaps I need to address the more concrete, practical aspects and gear my defense at the educational components of story time.

There is, of course, the socialization aspect. Many of the children who attend story time are not part of a regular day care or school program, and story time is the one opportunity they get to be around children their own age (Not to mention it can be the only chance some stay-at- home moms get to be around other adults.), but the virtues are far greater than that.

For children to develop good reading skills, they first need to have a broad base of knowledge about things in the world—both things they encounter in their daily life and things they do not. The thematic basis to story time gives our children prior knowledge they can tap into later as they are learning to read.

I hold a master of arts in teaching and did my thesis on programs that foster older children’s love of reading. Without a strong foundation, it can be extremely difficult to get kids excited about reading (hence, the importance of the Summer Reading Club, yet another program in jeopardy…but that’s another subject entirely). To gain a strong foundation, reading needs to be fun, even exciting, which it certainly is as part of story time. I have never met a child who does not like story time, who doesn’t enjoy the animated reading of books, the silly songs with movement, the fun crafts (today my kids made spider hats as part of the spider theme).

These story times are a valuable (free) resource offered to our community that are in jeopardy. I could pull out research about early childhood education, about the importance of music, reading, all the data behind what our dedicated librarian assistants do for our children, but frankly, I don’t have the time. If I did, maybe I could try to plan a story time half as spectacular as the ones the library puts on.

Rachel Leon is a stay-at-home mother of three who is a member of the Friends of the Rockford Public Library. She is a library enthusiast and part of Advocates for the Rockford Public Library, a grassroots organization that opposes the proposed funding cuts. Sign their online petition at: www.gopetition.com/petitions/public-library-funding.html.

From the October 14-20, 2009 issue

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