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Baby steps toward books


Although they can't read and probably don't know the difference between a blog and a blanket, the crawling and toddling set now have their own Web site from the Carroll County Public Library.

The library recently launched a Web site devoted exclusively to its youngest patrons, age birth to 5.

The new site is simple to navigate and features a host of preschool-friendly projects, including coloring pages, e-books, puzzles that develop prereading skills and a blog maintained by the library mascot, a penguin named Corky.

The site,, also offers parenting tips, at-home activity packages that mirror the library's story time themes, a comprehensive list of children's activities at each branch and other resources to enhance the library experience.

"The Web site offers our patrons something that they can reach at home," said Buff Kahn, the children's services supervisor at the library's Eldersburg branch. Kahn headed up the Web site development team.

"They don't have to be at the library to be able to pull up some great resources and other services that we have," Kahn said. "It also offers almost an extension of what we are able to offer at the branch."

Kahn's team spent one year polling 150 parents of the youngest patrons about their favorite Web sites. The team then visited hundreds of pages to decide which to link to the library's site.

The site went live in May and will be promoted this summer in conjunction with the library's annual summer reading program, which runs until Aug. 19. The library also plans to start work on a site dedicated to children ages 6 to 10.

In recent years, the library has expanded its offerings for children up to age 5, with three preschool-geared story times, each offered several times a week at each branch.

The "Snugglebugs" story time, for children up to 2 years old, is an adult-child experience that incorporates auditory sensory stimulation. Babies as young as 4 weeks old have attended, Kahn said.

"At that time it's amazing - they will open their eyes and they're attuned to the activities and sounds in the room. Sometimes they'll nod off at the end, but very often you can see that it's developmentally stimulating for them to hear the words and rhythms," she said.

"When they're hearing language and rhymes it's making the foundation in their brains, and later they can acquire language and get pre-reading and language skills," Kahn said.

The new Web site is the most recent offering for the pre-reading group, who are at a critical age for nurturing future reading skills, said Ann Wisner, the library's external relations manager.

"What we call emergent literacy is very, very important in a child's development and in preparing them to be ready to enter school. This is really part of that whole focus," Wisner said. "It's familiarizing the child with language, activities and how they relate to each other."

A custom Web site is the modern way for a library to serve emergent readers, Wisner said.

"Information today is delivered very differently than it has been in the past, and the Web is a very important channel," she said. "Children are introduced to computers at very young ages now, and we wanted to take advantage of that opportunity."

A highlight of the new site is the TumbleBook Library, which provides a catalog of more than 100 electronic storybooks in English and other languages. Children can read or listen to the books, complete with illustrations and some with music, at the computer.

"It's another way of presenting a literary work - in an electronic format," Kahn said. "Computers are becoming more and more common in everything we do, and for the young children just getting some basic ability with the mouse and how to treat computers, this offers a fun way to be exposed to basic computer skills while doing an educational activity."

Another feature is Corky's blog, which has a few entries about the penguin's favorite books, his adventures with Sneaks the Cat and a reminder of last month's Mother's Day with some suggestions about how to celebrate.

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