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Early literacy program gives kids introduction to world of reading

Three-year-old Ryan Cole pulled a stuffed pig triumphantly out of the pillowcase that Mary Macedo was holding and held it up high for all to see.

"Look mommy, a pig!" he said, turning around to the group of parents a few feet behind, whose children sang with a visual of what Old MacDonald had on his farm.

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The song was an interlude between the books that Macedo was reading to nearly a dozen children as a part of Story Timers, an early literacy program developed in the Baltimore County Public Library system that brings volunteers into libraries to read to young children.

"You really never know what kind of response you're going to get from week to week," said Macedo, a Timonium resident who volunteers twice a month at the Cockeysville branch. "Sometimes they react more to the songs than the books."

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Story Timers was started in September by Kathy Coster, the library system's manager of marketing and programming, and Susan Bard, early literacy program volunteer coordinator.

"We're not trying to teach these kids how to read," Bard said. "We're trying to get them ready to read."

Bard said that when children understand at an early age how reading works, they take to it much faster when the time comes to actually begin reading in kindergarten.

Early literacy provides building blocks to reading, Coster said. "They learn to associate sounds with letters and words ... which makes a huge difference in the ability to read," she said. "And we have wonderful volunteers who make it all happen."

Macedo, 64, has been a volunteer most of her life and is a relative newcomer to the program, having been in it for six months.

"My favorite thing to do with kids is to read to them," Macedo said. "My children are all grown, and there are always new and wonderful books that I wouldn't have even known about."

Beth-Ann Cole, the mother of Ryan, said her son always enjoys the story times.

"It's just nice to be able to come here and have the space for him to either run around or listen to a story," Cole said.

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Story Timers has begun to get national attention, thanks in part to the Library Video Network, an award-winning branch of the county library system that produces and distributes training videos to libraries.

According to Carl Birkmeyer, media support services manager, when he was approached to create a training video for the Story Timers volunteers, he knew that it would be "something other libraries would want" and decided to market it nationally.

"This is a really great program they have," Birkmeyer said, "and this is a video we're really proud of."

Birkmeyer said that the video, which was produced in and is distributed from a small group of rooms in the system's administration offices in Towson, has sold only a few copies but that the number should not be overlooked.

"When we sell one video, we sell it to an entire library system, so there are a lot of kids who are going to benefit from it," Birkmeyer said. "So if the Story Timers video does well and sells more than 150 copies, which we think it will, it will benefit over half a million kids."

But for right now, Macedo is content just to make this small group of kids at the Cockeysville library happy.

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"It's just so rewarding," Macedo said. "The things you do for free always seem to give you a bigger payback."


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