“Read at whim! Read at whim!”

I’ve borrowed my headline this week from the poet Randall Jarrell; it’s one of many quotes about the joys of reading that adorn a framed poster in my office. I’ve been drawing special inspiration from it lately as we prepare to launch a new reading program at Fairyland called Storytime. The program begins next month, but you’re in luck: I’m giving you a preview now.

Every Friday beginning Jan. 9, twice a day, people will pop up (whimsically—this is Fairyland, after all) and begin reading a book guaranteed to capture the imaginations of the pre-kindergarten set.

Why are we doing this? Because we know that talking, reading, and singing to babies are the easiest ways to help them grow up smarter, happier, and with a brighter future to look forward to.

80 percent of a child’s brain is developed by the age of three, and our words are a very influential part of that development. It works even before a child can talk back, and the effects persist throughout a child’s life. Children who hear more words are better prepared when they enter school, have bigger vocabularies, are stronger readers, and have higher test scores.

Caption 2: Nick demonstrates his storytelling talents during a training to be a Fairyland Storytime reader. Photo credit: Angela Moffett

Caption 2: Nick demonstrates his storytelling talents during a training to be a Fairyland Storytime reader. Photo credit: Angela Moffett

To create a new program that develops the brains of our young guests, we needed volunteers –  and they had to undergo 12 hours of training before we turned them loose to read.

Why training? Isn’t it enough to just read aloud in an engaging way? We tend to hang out with people who know all about this stuff, the smartest and coolest people on the planet—children’s librarians—and they gently helped set us straight. There definitely more to Storytime than reading. Print motivation is what the experts call it.

We want our new Storytime to create—and to demonstrate to parents and caregivers that they too can create—a special, timeless moment for kids that associates reading with fun, and doesn’t require lessons to be taught.

To set us on the right track we turned to Angela Moffett, who is pursuing an advanced degree in library science at San Jose State University and who has joined Fairyland for an internship this semester. Working with Fairyland’s own education specialist, Shana Barchas, Angela is designing and implementing the Storytime project, which we want to be an ongoing park feature. She knows that children learn to read when they want to read, because reading is joyful and exciting for them.

When we put the word out for Storytime reading volunteers, 10 wonderful people answered the call. They include a member of the Lake Merritt Breakfast Club, Fairyland’s own Santa Claus, one of Angela’s library science professors, and even a park ranger. Six of Oakland’s children’s librarians volunteered their time and talent to help guide the team over the two-day training.

While all of our storytellers were familiar with how to read a book to kids, the training gave them new read-aloud skills: fingerplays (develops fine motor skills), flannelboards, songs and puppets. They also learned that, when you present the title and author and illustrator of a book, you’re teaching kids the parts of the book, and by reading from the page you’re helping them associate the printed word with the spoken word. This is a very big deal. So is slow speech, repetition, and predictability, because toddlers look forward to hearing the same songs in a familiar format.

I sat in on part of the last training session and was immediately engaged. Body movement, percussion instruments, singing—all of these elements will be brought in to the 20-25 minute Storytime sessions. So will flannel boards, another way to let kids see the narration unfolding. The park ranger actually created his own felt acorns, leaves and tree. So impressive!

If you haven’t already guessed, Fairyland’s Storytimes will not be fussy or serious. It will always be OK for kids to wander in and out of focus. Angela says that it’s important to get them involved in some physical activities to give them a chance to “shake their sillies out.” After each Storytime session, Shana says that the volunteers will encourage families to go out and explore—because playing is learning, too.

Caption 1: Ten volunteers had 12 hours of training to be Fairyland Storytime storytellers. Photo credit: Nina Lindsay

Caption 1: Ten volunteers had 12 hours of training to be Fairyland Storytime storytellers. Photo credit: Nina Lindsay

If you want to help Fairyland purchase great new books chosen by Angela for our Storytimes, visit our friends at the recently relocated Laurel Books—now in downtown Oakland—and ask to see our wish list. You’ll be supporting not only Fairyland but also a beloved local bookseller and the kids who will someday be running the planet.


Editor’s Note: This piece reflects an individual opinion and is not a reported story from Oakland Local. Oakland Local invites community residents to share their views about events and issues in Oakland.
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