This weekend, our local libraries will join with hundreds of counterparts throughout the country in hosting the 20th annual “Read Across America” celebration in honor of the birthday of beloved children’s author Dr. Seuss.
The nationwide event was launched by the National Education Foundation in 1998 to motivate children to read and create lifelong readers.
With his whimsical and winsome characters and writing style, Dr. Seuss (Theodor Seuss Geisel) has enchanted four generations of youngsters and inspired millions of children to learn to read.
“I think the playfulness of his writing and illustrations and the creativity with which he used words, and mixed them up, and made them up and his touch of silliness makes reading fun and enjoyable for children,” said Darcie Caswell, youth services coordinator for Central Rappahannock Regional Library.
Dr. Seuss’s fun-filled approach to literacy is a perfect fit for the local libraries, which have developed a plethora of exciting activities and events to spark a love of reading among all ages.
The celebration will feature a spectrum of activities designed by staff ranging from challenges to identify synonyms to a “fishing pond” where the angler matches a word that rhymes with his catch with his “catch” word. “The Cat” might also make an appearance at some sites for photo ops with young visitors.
In addition to these family-friendly celebrations, several branches will be hosting a Grow-A-Reader Special: “Happy Birthday, Dr. Seuss.” The Grow-A-Reader initiative was created to offer activities for children ages 5 and under to equip them with the skills that will prepare them to become readers. Mother Goose, Toddler Time, Alphabet Soup and Preschool Time programs feature songs, stories and activities that were designed and coordinated by specially trained staff and vary in length for and content for different age cohorts.
After Hours programs on evenings and weekends of Saturday Tales and Books Before Bedtime are offered to take into account the daytime schedule of some parents.
Parents and caregivers are an important element of all the early literacy classes.
“We are modeling skills and activities that adults can do at home with their children. It’s important for the parents and caregivers to be in the room so that they can learn what they can do to reinforce those skills, whether it’s reading stories, clapping to nursery rhymes or singing songs,” said Caswell. “We are very intentional and tell the caregiver what the skill is and why it’s important and what we are doing to strengthen it.”
The importance of parents and caregivers reading to their children has been underscored by research that shows that children who are read to in their early years tend to develop better language skills and that 90 percent of a child’s brain is developed before they reach kindergarten.
Caswell highlights the emotive impact of parents’ reading sessions with their children. “It makes it an enjoyable experience and, in the child’s mind, they connect reading with positive emotions and spending time with the people they love.”
The library staff has developed innovative ways to keep young people interested in reading and feel the delight in learning. In its Paws for Reading program, children have an opportunity to read to the most appreciative and non-inhibiting audience of all—trained therapy dogs.
The libraries’ summertime Discovery Learning Tables focus on STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) topics with engaging hands-on activities.
Families can also check out Adventure Packs—containing theme-related books, tools and activities. They are a wonderful threshold to explore topics ranging from Nature at Night, Birds and Reptiles to a personal and enchanting glimpse into the lives of historical figures.
Beyond the educational value of reading, the libraries highlight the personal development that literacy promotes.
“Reading sparks children’s imaginations and transports them to different worlds and different places, both real and imaginary,” said Caswell. “The Read Across America celebration is a great opportunity for parents to spend time with their children, who are learning without even realizing it because they are having so much fun!”
Collette Caprara is a local writer and artist.