Jackson County libraries and local moms are proving that bookworms can never be too young.
You can find babies and toddlers at libraries in Medford, Ashland, Central Point and White City every week, the mothers sitting in a circle on the floor of a meeting room, the babies on cloths or in their mothers' arms. The mothers sing songs, recite poems and name body parts with accompanying sounds of giggling, cooing and occasional crying. Then the book of the day is read out loud.
"The concept is that babies are learning from the moment they are born," says Medford class presenter Cathy Egelston. "They are taking in everything around them, and this helps their brains to develop."
Based on studies in early child development, baby classes had proven popular in Portland and Eugene. Ashland children's librarian Margie Cicerrella was the one who brought up the idea locally, after learning about similar programs at several conferences. With support from managers of local branch libraries, grant funding was obtained from the Oregon Community Foundation, John and Betty Gray Early Childhood Project and the Jackson County Library Foundation.
This was back in 2006 — then the libraries closed. But Cicerrella managed to get the funding back with support from the new library managers when branches reopened, and now the Babies in the Library classes — and similar Wobbler, the Next Step classes for children 1 year to 2 years old — are available at libraries in Medford, Ashland, Central Point and White City.
"Reading to children and talking to them, expanding their familiarity with vocabulary, actually activates and connects synapses in their brains," says Cicerrella. "We are not teaching children to read, but we are teaching them about language, getting them ready to read."
Many parents, says Cicerrella, mistakenly think computers and educational television can take the place of parents in teaching their children, but studies have shown small children learn best from real people interacting with them.
Cicerrella started out as an elementary-school teacher. She realized that teaching children really had to begin in the home, long before they got into school. She went back to school to get her library-science degree. She learned children who were being read to did react differently than those passively watching a screen. Cicerrella took the best from various similar baby programs around the country and put together a curriculum.
Zachariah Oden, 4 weeks old, is attending his fourth Babies in the Library class. A big smile on his face shows he is enjoying it as his mother sings "Pop Goes the Weasel" to him.
"It's a great class," comments Deborah Oden, his mother. "It's fun to come and sit with other mothers and sing and talk with them and compare stories."
Dana LaPoint was juggling 2-month-old Kaleb on her lap, saying it was nice to get out of the house and interact with other babies and moms.
"I think it really does help them develop," she says. "It teaches them when they're little that it's OK to be a bookworm. I read to my little brother all the time, and he's a genius in school."
"Besides rhymes and songs and finger play, we are modeling that reading is important," she says. "If parents show that reading is important from an early age, children learn that. There's even been a study showing the number of books that a child has in the home really will determine their success in later learning."
There is no registration and no fee for Babies and Wobbler classes. Mothers are welcome to come whenever they want, with no commitment necessary. Classes are offered at branches in Medford, Ashland, Central Point and White City.
Call for times and days at 541-774-8678.