Storytimes are not just for listening anymore

Sophia Lemperes, 5, reads a book in the children’s section of the Lynden Library in February 2016. The Whatcom County Library System offers three new storytimes this fall.
Sophia Lemperes, 5, reads a book in the children’s section of the Lynden Library in February 2016. The Whatcom County Library System offers three new storytimes this fall. eabell@bhamherald.com

Storytime represents the time-honored linchpin of public library service to young children. For many it is the first introduction to the library and a formative experience. Very young children, and their adult entourages, will develop meaningful and indelible understandings of the magical place that is the library, understandings that will color how they always see and use the library.

Youth services librarians understand this, and plan accordingly. We are deliberate in the open welcome we offer, the joy of books and stories we foster, and the valuable learning we impart. A successful storytime has lots of moving parts, but, like ice-skating, is best when it appears effortless.

Storytime has changed a great deal since I sat on a colored rug and listened to the librarian read me stories in the 1960s. In the past decade alone mountains of data about how young children learn, and what they need to know and master before they learn to read (referred to as early literacy) have augmented the benefits that storytime delivers to its audience. Dialogic reading, talking to kids about the story and pictures as we go, supports the development of narrative skills. Singing helps children understand words as syllables and syllables as sounds, crucial pieces of the decoding puzzle. Large scale activity, swinging arms and stomping feet on alternate sides of the body, helps build synapses across the brain, structures that will become heavily trafficked physiological information highways as the child grows and learns.

Storytime has also become more specialized, targeting singular demographic groups, focusing on special skills or subjects, or supporting particular learning styles or challenges. This fall the Whatcom County Library System is offering three new special storytimes we’re thrilled to be able to bring to the children and families of Whatcom County.

Spanish Storytime

As its name suggests, Spanish Storytime features all of the elements of a storytime presented in the Spanish language, incorporating classic and contemporary stories in Spanish or bilingual in Spanish and English augmented by songs and rhymes traditional to Spanish-speaking culture. Anyone interested in sharing these wonderful stories and songs with their children is welcome to attend.

Spanish Storytime happens at the Lynden Library, 216 4th St., Fridays at 10:30 a.m., Sept. 16 through Dec. 16 (no programs on Oct. 14, Nov. 11 or Nov. 25).

Sensory Storytime

This program is designed specifically for young children who experience sensory integration challenges. Each weekly program follows a regular and dependable routine, mapped out with visual icons on a board that participants can follow. Sensory distractions are minimized, allowing children to focus. And fidget toys and manipulables are provided, to promote focus and decrease stress. We limit the number of participants, as a way to manage stimulus, so registration is required.

Sensory Storytime happens at the Blaine Library, 610 3rd St., Wednesdays at 10:30 a.m., Oct. 12 through Nov. 16. To register, email sensory@wcls.org.

Little Bodies Big Hearts Storytime

Little Bodies Big Hearts Storytime is designed to help children name and understand their feelings, encouraging social/emotional awareness, a critical skill for success in school and life. Stories, songs and other activities will explore a range of emotions, letting children know that feelings are natural, and that books are a wonderful place to acknowledge and investigate them.

Little Bodies Big Hearts Storytime happens at the Ferndale Library, 2125 Main St., Thursdays at 10:30 a.m., Sept. 12 through Dec. 12.

Both the Whatcom County Library System and the Bellingham Public Library offer lots of programs for preschool children (and everybody else) and these new programs strengthen an already vibrant array. For a complete list visit wcls.org/early-years and http://bellinghampubliclibrary.org/children.

Thom Barthelmess is the youth services manager at the Whatcom County Library System.