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Thursday, October 28, 2021

Alachua County libraries host in-person, outdoor reading programs for children

Alachua County Library District’s “Story Time on the Green” program aims to bring families together

Graphic courtesy to The Alligator
Graphic courtesy to The Alligator

On the green lawn of the Headquarters Library, 18 children and caregivers sat together on June 30 listening to Samantha Noll read picture books and sing songs using sign language. 

Noll, the 34-year-old library specialist in the youth services department, said she loves spending time with kids and engaging them in the library’s programs.

“I always like to start with a hello song or book,” she said. “I hadn't done it before, but I wanted something that said ‘hello’ since we haven't seen these guys in a while.”

Alachua County Library District’s “Story Time on the Green” is an in-person educational program for caregivers to bring their young children to the library branches. Librarians will read stories aloud, sing songs and lead activities outside on green spaces or in parks. The program is intended to help children build their communication and reading skills. 

Different branches will host the program on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays at 10 a.m. for about 30 minutes until Oct. 2. 

At each branch, librarians select books to cater to young children. Noll said she picked new books that were short, colorful and interactive. She said she prefers reading pop-up books and using funny voices for the children. 

Jaqui Sturms, a 38-year-old stay-at-home mom who brought her daughter, Kaiya, said the program was a good opportunity for her daughter to socialize.

“Before COVID, she was very small, and we came to some of the library things, and it was good to see the other kids out,” she said. “But since COVID has happened, there aren't many opportunities for her to see other kids and be around kids, which is a big problem with COVID babies.”

Brent Warner, a 48-year-old stay-at-home dad, brought his two children. He said he wanted to allow his oldest son to spend time with other kids because the past year limited his son’s social interaction. 

“We used to come a lot to the library to do a lot of events, and it’s kind of hard on him not being able to do these things,” he said. “I think it’s taking him back socially a little bit.” 

Radha Allard, a 28-year-old stay-at-home mom who brought her 16-month-old daughter, said she liked the relaxed, laid-back atmosphere. She and other caregivers shook brightly colored plastic eggs with beans inside and sang songs while using sign language with their children. 

“I like that it's very interactive so the storyteller gets the chance to interact with the story,” she said. “It's not just them telling the story.”

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Since the program began on June 29, it has experienced a significant turnout. About 45 people attended the first storytime led by the Millhopper Branch team at Possum Creek Park, Rachel Cook, the public relations and marketing manager at the Alachua County Library District, wrote in an email.

The library district has hosted virtual programs such as storytime and art craft tutorials through Facebook, YouTube and Zoom since March 2020. 

All branches now welcome in-person visits, and study rooms are open for the public. On July 6, quiet reading and meeting rooms opened for scheduled public use. 

Cook said she hopes more parents and caregivers will bring their children to this free program.

“We encourage families and caregivers to bring out blankets and chairs to spread out and get ready to wiggle and sing and have fun with their kids,” she said. 

Contact Phong Huynh at phunyh@alligator.org. Follow him on Twitter @phongphont.

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