Former President Bill Clinton charmed a crowd of about 100 people in Dundalk’s Turner Station community Monday as he celebrated playground signs that encourage parents and caregivers to talk to young children to build their vocabulary.
Clinton was greeted with warm cheers as he walked to the playground. He earned laughter with his opening line: “I’m looking at all these kids who are thinking, ‘When are all of these old people going to shut up so I can go play on the playground?’"
Baltimore County Public Library officials hope the former president’s visit — which was pulled together in a few days — will draw attention to their efforts to engage the county’s youngest residents in reading.
Clinton helped cut a ribbon on the three-panel display at the Sollers Point Library’s playground that reminds parents that “talking is teaching.” The signs encourage adults to talk to children about topics such as shapes and the weather.
“We hope it’s a wave we can ride,” said Greg Jones, board president of the county library’s foundation, which raised money for the installation. The library foundation has committed $12,000 to install at least two more sign displays.
Clinton, a Democrat who served two terms as president in the 1990s, said research shows that talking with toddlers and young children — asking them questions, encouraging them to describe what they see — helps build their vocabulary and prepare them for school.
The Clinton Foundation supports early literacy through its “Too Small To Fail” initiative.
“The purpose of Too Small to Fail is to empower parents and caregivers to talk, read and sing with children from the day they are born to help them to build the framework on which they can become everything they ought to be,” Clinton said.
Clinton said children can learn in playgrounds just as well as they can learn at a desk. Sollers Point is the 83rd playground to get educational panels about talking with young children.
“All of us can contribute to what our children learn,” he said.
Library officials had long known that Clinton Foundation officials would be at Monday’s event, and they got an inkling the president himself might attend last week when officials visited the Sollers Point Library in person.
Following a brief speech, Clinton joined Jones, library system director Paula Miller and a gaggle of children to cut a ceremonial ribbon in front of the playground signs.
He snipped extra pieces of ribbon with the oversized scissors, and handed them to each child. “Did you get one? Did you get one?” Clinton asked the children.
Greater Dundalk has turned from a strongly Democratic area to an area that voted Republican in the last two elections — the area is represented by Republicans at the county and state level. But Clinton encountered plenty of appreciation at Sollers Point, in the historically African-American Turner Station community.
Lifelong Turner Station resident Olivia Lomax, a retired federal worker, said she was thrilled to have a former president visit her community, the first time she can remember that someone so prominent visited. She said the library and adjoining community center are a gem. The building is always in use, she said: “Something is always going on inside.”
Gordon Koerner, a retired electrical maintenance worker, drove from Joppatowne carrying a sign with a thumb’s up picture on it. He was concerned there might be protesters, and wanted to show his support for Clinton.
Koerner said he’s met both Bill and Hillary Clinton, the former Secretary of State and presidential candidate, at events over the years.
”This is great,” Koerner said. “I follow him a lot but I didn’t know he did this."
Two local elected officials attended the event with Clinton. County Councilman Julian Jones, a Democrat from Woodstock, came after hearing about it earlier in the day. He was joined by Republican Councilman David Marks of Perry Hall, who is a board member of the library foundation.