Kokomo Tribune; Kokomo, Indiana

February 13, 2012

Library program focuses on early childhood literacy development

By Carson Gerber
Tribune staff writer

— Librarian Karyn Millikan read a humble story about the adventures of a frog named Stick.

It was a simple tale, but to the kids listening intently Monday at the Kokomo-Howard County Public Library’s downtown branch with their parents, the story contained a serious lesson.

“We’re teaching the basics of a book — reading from left to right, turning the page, holding it right-side up,” Millikan said.

It may not be a hard lesson, but it’s an essential one in a child’s early development, she said, and something the library is dedicated to teaching through its Family First program.

Started in 2011, Millikan said the program — funded by a $2,000 grant from Target — helps families build a cycle of literacy by reading and learning together.

Parents and their children head to the library for five sessions in five months to develop the tools and skills that make kids successful, lifelong readers, she said.

One of the goals is to get parents to read 1,000 books to their kids by the time they’re 5 years old. By doing so, Millikan said a child is exposed to 4.5 million more words than they would hear in everyday conversation, which she said utilizes just around 10,000 words.

“I always tell parents their child is not going to learn how to speak properly from SpongeBob,” she said. “They learn to speak properly by listening and watching you.”

But Librarian Joyce Eikenberry said there’s a lot more to reading than just sitting down with a book.

“A lot of people fail to understand that there’s a whole process and skill set in learning to read,” she said.

And to most effectively develop that skill set, the program focuses on kids ranging from just months old to 4 years old.

“They become a lifelong learner and a lifelong reader if you start them young with the essential skills they need,” she said.

That’s a principle Krystyne Wilson took to heart with her two kids, Piper and Penelope, who attended the Monday evening session of the Family First program.

“W-i-l-s-o-n,” she spelled to 2-year-old Penelope. “What does that spell?”

After a brief hesitation and shy smile, Penelope answered confidently: “Wilson.”

Krystyne said she wants her kids to be able to read by the age of 4. “Not like the encyclopedia or anything, but small things,” she said with a laugh.

And with new education standards in Indiana, Millikan said early literacy development is more crucial today than ever.

“When children start school now, they’re expected to have a much bigger set of skills than they were even 10 years ago,” she said, noting core classes like science and history focus more on literacy than in the past. “It’s all about how to read and interpret a text.”

Eikenberry said families can still sign up for the Family First program to attend the remaining three sessions. By enrolling, kids will receive a free book bag and five free children’s books.

At the very least, Millikan said, “It’s just a great way to have fun with your child and explore the library.”

• Carson Gerber, Tribune reporter, may be reached by calling 765-854-6739 or via email at carson.gerber@kokomotribune.com.