Story Time: Inspiring Early Readers

Most of Ohio’s 251 public library systems have children’s libraries, and most children’s libraries have weekly story times for young children — what many librarians and researchers say is critical to the development of early literacy.


Shelley Hall, the youth services manager for Kent Free Library, said reading is an important building block for success later on in life.

“Reading to your child, especially a baby, is so important because it engages so many senses with your baby,” she said. “It starts their brain moving. They recognize pictures then, they hear the sound of your voice. It’s bonding time for you and the baby, so reading from a young age is really crucial.”

Shelley helps plan up to 67 youth programs a week, including 9 story times for infants through elementary school children.

Most Tuesdays at 7 p.m., the library hosts a Pajama Story Time for all ages. Although it’s only a couple hours before bedtime, the kids in attendance are full of energy and ready to dance and learn .

These story times, which used to be called story hours, have been around for decades. In the 1940s they were intended to promote a love of reading in children, and the focus changed more toward improving children’s literacy in the 1950s.

“Sometimes parents don’t know how to model good literacy behavior,” Hall said. “And so when they come to Story Time and they see the things that we do, they can understand, oh, singing Row, Row, Row Your Boat is another way I can work with my child because it’s developing vocabulary and language skills.”

While library attendance in general has gone down 12 percent since 2010, children’s programs remain strong. The 2014 Public Libraries Survey found over 70 million people attended children’s programs across the nation, up nearly 30 percent from 2004.

“Since I’ve been here, our Story Time has grown huge,” she said. “When I first started, our Story Times were very small. And now, at these evening Story Time, we can get anywhere from 30 to 50 people.”

Hall said she feels part of the some reason kids may be reluctant to read is the pressure to perform that’s associated with it.  

“I didn’t read when I was kid,” she said. “I didn’t read a book until college, honestly. I hated reading. And it was because, I figured out later when I was getting my master’s, that I didn’t like it because I felt so forced to read it and go back to school tomorrow and regurgitate all the information that I read, and if I didn’t remember it correctly I was wrong.”

So, Hall continues to do her best to make story time fun. She reads books, but she also sings and dances with the kids to keep them interested.

It seems to work. Often, they try to figure out the ending of the book midway through. When Hall tells the story of a mouse stuck in a hole, one little boy has a suggestion.

“Doesn’t the mouse have claws?” he asks, “Why can’t he just climb out of the hole?”

Later, Hall tells the story of a pet dog who’s trying to be good when he sees a cake.

“Do you think he’ll eat the cake, or do you think he’ll be good?” she asks.

A girl pipes in. 

“Maybe he’ll sneak it,” she said.

Although it’s usually a fun learning experience for the kids, the children’s librarians work hard to plan lessons and make decorations for the programs.

“All of our flannel boards and things we make ourselves, so it’s a lot of cutting,” she said.

Hall says it’s okay if you want to read Spongebob Squarepants, or if you want to read a graphic novel. Whatever children choose to read is good because it means they’re engaged in reading.

She says taking the time to find books that kids enjoy is worth it when she sees kids being excited about reading.

“There was a girl that came in today and she was reading our program sign up binder and she was reading it to me, and I was like, ‘Can you read?'” Hall said. “She said, ‘Miss Shelley, I can read. I’m five.’ It’s nice to see that they’re excited about reading.”

Tara Weckerly, whose family has been in Kent for three generations, went to the library’s story times when she was a kid and remembered loving them. She knew she wanted her daughter, 4-year-old Ivy, to follow in her footsteps.

“I work during the day so I can never bring her to the daytime ones, but the seven o’clock one — as soon as she was going to bed later than seven, I started bringing her,” she said. “It’s always someplace you can come back to and it can grow with you.”

Hall agrees.

“While early literacy is great, and young kids coming to the library is great, and it’s a great way to fast-track literacy skills, it’s important to be a lifelong library user, too,” Hall said.

More information on the Kent Free Library’s story programs can be found on their website.