Banking on books for life

November 01, 2002|by KATE COLEMAN

Once upon a time - actually just a few years ago, children's librarian Jeff Ridgeway's daughters were born at Washington County Hospital.

Ridgeway recalls the large packet of items he and his wife were given when they were taking their babies home. He noticed there was nothing from Washington County Free Library in the welcome bag.

He started thinking about what the library could give to new moms and their little ones. One idea was a flyer with an application for a library card.


Then he thought of something else. "Maybe it should be a book to start out their library," Ridgeway suggested.

And since last January, that's exactly what's been happening.

"Books for Babies" is a program that provides books to first-time mothers at Washington County Hospital. The idea is to encourage reading to even very young children - from birth to five years.

The program is a cooperative effort of the Washington County Reading Council, Washington County Hospital's Family Birthing Center and the library. Hundreds of board books - sturdy, thick-paged, seems-like-they-could-last-forever little volumes - have been gift-wrapped and presented to new families.

"The moms have been very appreciative," says Jody Bishop, clinical nurse manager at Washington County Hospital's Family Birthing Center.

Now the "Books for Babies" people want to benefit newborn siblings. The second or third or fourth new babies - not just the first in the families' birth order - also deserve books.

The "big kids" - students in Washington County Elementary Schools who already know how to read - can help.

By "Reading to Make Cents," they can raise money for "Books for Babies" during Children's Book Week, Sunday, Nov. 17, through Sunday, Nov. 24.

Pledge forms are going out to students today. They can ask parents, grandparents, friends and neighbors to sponsor them in this project, pledging whatever amount of money they think appropriate for each book read.

Organizers hope to raise $10,000, says Pam Michael, a reading teacher at Winter Street Elementary School and member of the County Reading Council. Money will be used to expand "Books for Babies."

More than a nice gesture

Reading to babies and young children is important, Michael says.

Reading to young children helps them to acquire language and develop literacy, and that helps with reading comprehension and success in school, according to the "It's Never Too Early," fact sheet, a campaign of the Maryland Department of Education.

Ridgeway's daughters Elizabeth and Joanna now are 5 and 7 years old, but even though Joanna can read all by herself, he still reads to them.

It's important to let children know that books are important enough for parents to take time out of a busy day to read, Ridgeway says. Also, studies have shown that a child's listening vocabulary is higher than reading vocabulary, he adds.

Another benefit is that parents may choose books their children might not have read. Ridgeway's been reading the "Little House" books to his girls. "They love them," he says.

So does he. Reading time also is an opportunity for a family to be together, to share time, stories and ideas.

Kids who read to make the most cents - those who raise the most money - will have a chance to win prizes donated by area businesses, including a grand-prize bicycle, gift certificates and scooters. Everyone who raises at least $1 will receive a food coupon from a local restaurant.

But the benefits go beyond tangible prizes. Kids will have an opportunity to read the kinds of books they like. They can read for fun and help new babies get an early start.

That makes sense.

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