Only 37 percent of the nation’s fourth graders are at or above proficiency in reading, according to the U.S. Department of Education Nation’s Report Card assessment.
Aware of this shortcoming, the Manatee County Public Library System provides weekly Storytime reading events for preschoolers at all of their branches.
“Storytime is a very important program,” said Yoshira Castro, Palmetto Library branch supervisor. “It prepares the kids to be ready for school.”
Castro said the objective of Storytime is to improve preschool children’s vocabulary, build their social skills and increase their motor skills during the craft portion of the program.
Kaitlin Crockett, youth librarian at the Palmetto Branch, has continued to improve Storytime since she joined the library staff in October 2016.
“For some kids this is the only introduction to books and libraries they receive,” said Crockett, who received her Master in Library Science from the University of South Florida. “And we are not only teaching reading skills, we also include science and other subjects.”
Storytime is held at the Palmetto Library, 923 Sixth St. W., every Wednesday from 10 to 11 a.m.
The hour begins with the children sitting in a semicircle around Crockett, or whoever will be doing the reading that day.
Behind her is a table with several books propped up for the preschoolers to plainly see the book covers.
There also may be other items on display relating to the book to be read.
“Sometimes I pick a theme from the season, or with the help of several Storytime blogs,” Crockett said. “But really I just look at the stacks (shelves) and find something that will best engage with the kids.”
Several weeks ago, Crockett invited Manatee County District Two Commissioner Charles Smith to read to the children.
“I like to do this,” said Smith, who grew up in Palmetto and attended Palmetto schools. “This is my second time reading for Storytime.”
He said as a child, one of the most interesting things in school was listening to a teacher read to them.
“She would never finish the story until the next week,” Smith said. “We were all anxious to hear the end.
“This helped make me a better reader,” he said. “If you can read it helps you become a better person and help the world.”
Storytime at the Palmetto Library is a special day for the children who attend regularly.
“We ride our bikes to the library for reading time,” said Erin Fellows, of Palmetto, who brings her son Colin to Storytime as often as she can.
“He likes listening to the stories, and he likes being around the other kids and he loves dinosaurs,” Fellows said of her 3-year-old.
Colin was in luck on the day Smith read.
The book Crockett picked was How Do Dinosaurs Say Good Night? by Jane Yolen and Mark Teague.
As Smith read the story holding the book for the children to see the illustrations, young Colin crawled up close to the commissioner to see better.
The other five children at Storytime that day stayed close to their mothers or grandmother until Smith completed the story.
“We come every week,” said Marta Cavanah, of Palmetto, who was at Storytime with her 3-year-old daughter, Alanna. “We love Miss Kaitlin. She’s amazing.”
Attendance was a must for Dana Menendez, of Palmetto, and her 4-year-old daughter, Bella.
“We’re here every week,” Menendez said. “It’s educational and good for her social skills and it’s preparing her for school.”
Learning to get along with other children and getting a head start for school also was one reason Min Foy brought her son, Hunter, 4, to Storytime.
“It’s good for him to learn how to be with other children,” Foy said.
For Michaela MacDonald, 7, and her sister, Carly MacDonald, 4, coming to Storytime at the Palmetto Library was more of a tradition.
Their grandmother brings them to the library every time they visit her from up North during their school’s spring break.
After Crockett read another book for the children, she led them in a dinosaur march, and then helped them create their own dinosaur “fossils” by imprinting toy dinosaurs into a homemade dough-like substance.
She also highlighted for the parents some new literacy and educational materials the library now has available.
“We have Early Literacy Kits and STEM Kits, which are boxes that contain books, puzzles, activities, and other manipulative items centered around a theme,” Crockett said.
The library puts these kits together for families to take home, she said.
“We also have Playaway Views and Launchpads, pre-loaded tablets with educational games and interactive stories,” Crockett said.
These two activity items were purchased from vendors and are available for check out with a library card.
“The library is a special place,” said Smith. “We need to expand the services and extend the hours.”
The Rocky Bluff Library, 6750 U.S. 301 N., in Ellenton, has Storytime for preschoolers twice a week.
Preschoolers can attend on Tuesdays, 10:15 to 11 a.m., and Fridays, 10:30 to 11 a.m.
For more information about Storytime readings and other events held at the county libraries, visit the Facebook page at www.facebook.com/pg/manalibraries/events/?ref=page_internal.
For more information about the U.S. Department of Education Nation’s Report Card visit its website at www.nationsreportcard.gov.