First Steps leads to reading

By ANNE KAZMIERCZAK
Register Reporter

Register/Anne Kazmierczak
Lexi Vega, 8, reads to her mom Shawna and little brother Kaeden at the Iola Public Library recently. Shawna Vega is the first Iolan to complete the library’s new program, “First Steps to Reading,” designed to encourage parents of infants to involve them in literacy efforts while still young.

The Iola Public Library wants even the youngest members of the community to become voracious readers. To that end, they have developed a program called “First Steps to Reading.”
First Steps offers parents and guardians of infants small gifts in exchange for completing four simple steps of a newly designed “infant packet” available at the library. The program is funded by a grant from the Institute for Museum and Library Services, said Friends of the Library member Becky Nilges.
The library previously had a packet it gave to parents of newborns at the hospital, Nilges said. However, that was mainly a list of resources and information.
“Through the direction of a volunteer task force, we looked at what was given, and then added two books and the incentives to the list of resources,” Nilges said.
“Read to Your Bunny,” a book by award-winning author and illustrator Rosemary Wells, was selected specifically for its instruction to parents on reading to their children. While parents learn about the importance of early exposure to reading, engaging illustrations keep young eyes on the page.
“Not only will it inspire the child, but it will educate the parent to what a positive resource the library is,” Nilges said.
Another change is in distribution. Librarians once learned of births “through the hospital or health department,” Nilges said. They would then contact new parents about helping them locate resources. Because of changes in health privacy laws, that is no longer possible. Instead, parents receive a coupon at the hospital, doctors offices or county health department, Nilges said, to redeem at the library’s children’s desk. That simple change also gets parents “into the library,” while children are still infants, Nilges noted.
If a guardian does not receive a coupon, they can still “come in and get registered,” said Children’s Librarian Leah Oswald. “We just want babies to be read to — that’s the goal.”
“A lot of people understand the importance of reading and of the library, but they wait until their children are closer to school age to bring them in” Oswald said. “Just from brain development research, (scientists have) learned how important it is” for children to be exposed to reading at a much younger age.
Exposure to the physical act of reading helps babies recognize letters, understand print orientation and focus attention, Nilges said. “Just to be able to sit and look at a book, even if they can’t yet read it,” orients the child toward reading.

SHAWNA VEGA discovered First Steps through a display she saw when she brought her daughter, Lexi, 8, to the library. Vega and her nine-month-old son, Kaeden, are the first Iolans to complete the program.
“Reading is big in my family,” Vega said. “My sister reads all the time; my dad has always been a big reader.” And Vega wants her children to follow in those good habits.
The four steps in the program are easy to achieve, Oswald said.
Step one is signing up for a library card, either for the child or the child’s guardian.
Step two involves checking out a parenting DVD. Step three involves checking out a board book for baby to read, plus a parenting DVD.
Step four requires completing four of six activities, including checking out materials and/or attending parenting workshops at the library. Completion of step four brings a library fine waiver, good for a year, plus a cloth book bag.
Vega said she’s learned a lot about library resources through First Steps.
“In doing the program with Kaeden, I learned a lot about the educational DVDs.” She particularly liked the “Hooked on Babies” DVDs. The videos feature cartoon characters and real kids, she said.
“They say words that rhyme and do finger plays. Everything in the series is at a slower pace,” so parents can learn the rhymes, she said.

FIRST STEPS is designed to be followed over the course of a year, as a baby grows and develops, Oswald said.
Vega noted “the program helped me know what to check out for at each age level. I think it’s a good program. You can benefit a lot.”
Vega is a stay-at-home mom. Her husband, Martin, works at B&W Trailer Hitches in Humboldt. Both parents read to their children.
Martin is from Mexico, Vega said. “We get a lot of books here for the children in Spanish and he reads to them.”
Kaeden is now exploring the library’s board books, Vega said. “Right now he’s wanting to touch everything so he wants all the touch-and-feel books but anything with bright colors gets his attention. Now we’re into all the fun board books with all the noises and feely things you can enjoy.”
She encourages his continued interest by reading to him.
“Ever since he was little he’s loved to hear the sound of my voice,” she said. “He really gravitates to it.
“When I was pregnant I came to story hour and I think he got used to hearing the stories,” she said.
Vega brings her children to the library regularly. She noted “on a rainy day when we can’t play outside, it’s fun to come (here). It always seems everyone’s so friendly when you come to the library.”
First Steps to Reading is funded through the end of 2010, Nilges said.
Some of the informational material in the packet includes a list of parenting books available at the library, tips on assisting your child with reading and writing and family reading tips from Barbara Bush.
The program’s objective is simple, Oswald said.
As Vega said of her son, “I hope eventually he’ll have a love of books.”