By Abbey Doyle
The Herald Bulletin
ANDERSON, Ind. —
Cadence VanAlst, 5, and sister Eliza VanAlst, 4, were decked out in flowing queen’s capes and sparkling princess crowns as they stood excitedly at the feet of Heather Sullivan.
“Hand picks an apple. Hand picks a drum,” Sullivan read aloud with enthusiasm. “Dum ditty dum ditty dum dum dum.”
As the story progressed, millions of monkeys would bang on drums and the dozen children gathered around the Anderson Public Library early literacy librarian beginning drumming themselves.
Playing dress-up, digging in a sandbox, animated storytelling, and using Fruit Loops to create pointillist art comprise the Preschool Promenade program at APL. It’s far from a “stuffy” library outing for these kids.
The children — most ages 4 to 5 — spent the hour in the library’s just-completed Cardinal Room. Twice a week the library hosts story and activity times for babies, toddlers and preschool children. Each activity is targeted to specific age groups.
“If you think the library is a dry, quiet stuffy place then you haven’t been here for a while,” said Susan Robinson, APL children’s services manager. “We offer quality, fun programming and it is free. We give the children the kinds of experiences that they will really enjoy.”
Christi VanAlst has been taking her two daughters, Cadence and Eliza, and son Ryder, 1 1/2, to the library’s children’s programming every week for about four years. She enjoys the opportunity for her children to interact with others their own age and for the children to handle a situation when someone else is in charge.
“They just love it,” VanAlst said. “I think it is important to introduce your kids to the library environment early. This is a way to get kids involved in reading too.”
Cadence’s favorite part of this past week’s program was the princess costume. Her favorite books, well, they are about princesses, too.
“I love to get books,” she said excitedly, “Princess books!”
Liam Innes, 3, sat nearby finishing up his snack of Fruit Loops and water before going to the art table to try his hand at pointillism with cotton swabs and paint.
“We played with the parade,” he said, referring to the marching and singing the children perform after story time — complete with a drum and ribbons to twirl.
Liam said he enjoys the prizes earned for reading as with the summer reading program. Currently, he and mom Kim Innes are reading “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” by C.S. Lewis.
“They do a phenomenal job making reading fun for kids,” Innes said. “It is great to see him get involved and interact with the other children. And they get exposed to a lot of different things, not just reading here. There is tactile fun with the sand, the art projects and music. He just loves it.”
Sullivan said the special programming is a nice way to get families into the habit of visiting the library and reading to their children as well as promoting interaction between children and their parents or caregivers.
She said she is happy the library provides reading and literacy activities but also the messier and creative activities that are harder for parents to do at home.
“There are so many things that we have to offer,” Sullivan said. “The library is an indispensable resource.”
Robinson said many of the programming is modelling behaviors that some parents may need to remind them of how to prepare young children for kindergarten — nursery rhymes, reading to them, hand manipulation and other necessities.
While APL has programming for children of all ages and adults, there is emphasis on helping preschool-age children prepare for kindergarten.
The children’s department has thousands of books, computers programming specifically for preschool kids, handheld electronic devices for checkout, videos and CDs.
“You really would be surprised how much is available,” Robinson said. “Children will have a fun time and they will be learning. It is a win-win for everyone.”
Staci Terrell, teen services librarian, said they offer four to six programs each month for teens — students grade six to 12. The programming offered is decided with the help of a teen advisory board. One of the biggest event of the year — Read and Feed — will be from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. April 13.
Five teen authors — S. A. Bodeen, “Compound;” Mike Mullin, “Ashfall;” Christine Johnson, “Claire de Lune;” Steve Sheinkin, “Bomb: The Race to Build — and Steal — the World’s Most Dangerous Weapon;” and local teacher Brenda Maxfield, “The Lance Temptation — will be on hand to talk to teens and sign books, many of which will be given away by the library. There will be free pizza for the teens.
This event is in addition to programming offered during spring break and regularly scheduled activities like game and movie nights.
“We want to let the teens know that the library has resources for them and is a welcoming environment for them,” Terrell said. “Unfortunately in Anderson there aren’t as many resources and outlets available for teens like there once was. The library is a great place for teens to come and hang out.”
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