Library aims to get kids up on their feet

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WILTON-As parents begin gearing up for summertime, some wondering how they’ll fill their children’s time this year, Sandy Warren hopes they’ll think of the library.

Warren, children’s librarian at the Wilton Free Public Library, said Wednesday the library’s summer reading program, which kicks off June 23 and runs four days a week from then until Aug. 5, offers a wealth of activities for kids (and adults) of all ages.

After last year’s reading-intensive theme of “Around the World in 42 Days,” this year’s “Hooked on Healthy Habits” aims at getting kids out of the library and on their feet, as much as it’s geared towards literacy. Warren said after all the talk about childhood obesity and other nutrition, exercise and safety-related ailments on the news and around town this year, she felt she had no choice but to address health this summer.

But far from being boring lectures on the importance of the five food groups every day, Warren said her program this year will feature guided evening hikes on trails around town, active games, and engaging reading she thinks everyone will enjoy.

The program is offered free for everyone who wants to come, Warren said, and is structured with events in the mornings, afternoons and evenings to cater to families with all kinds of schedules. It’s not necessary to sign up for the program or to come consistently, Warren says.

In addition to specific summertime activities, the Wilton library is also providing a new year-round service to parents of infants and toddlers. This spring, the library became one of the first three in the state to get a $10,000 grant to become a “Family Place” library, providing programming to encourage literacy in very young children and offer support services to their parents.

Between birth and age 3, 90 percent of a child’s neurological “wiring” is set, Warren said, and at that stage it is crucial for children to be exposed to all kinds of stimuli to aid brain growth. One of the many things Warren has done to create a learning environment for young children in the Wilton library is purchase a number of manipulative toys that relate to the books they read. Activity bags, decorated by the girls in the Wilton mentoring program Girl Talk, feature picture books with things like puzzles, felt board figures, puppets and stuffed animals that relate to the book inside.

To become a “Family Place” librarian, Warren went to Long Island this spring for more training in early childhood development and in networking with public services, so now inquisitive parents can not only find parenting books at the library, but also ask Warren questions and be directed to other services for families.

All this is being done to “give infants lots of experiences with literacy” and so the library can become “more of a resource center for parents” than just a quiet place full of books.

“I really do think “Family Place” is great – it’s gong to be a big asset to the library,” Director and Head Librarian Vaughan Gagne said.

The approach has worked wonders for Thor Gabrielsen, 2, of Wilton. “When we pass the library, he chants library, library, library,’ ” his mother Michelle said Wednesday, from a post at a table inside the building. “And when it’s closed, he cries and pulls on the door.”

Of the library’s new designation as a “Family Place,” Gabrielsen marveled at how “They do such a fantastic job to begin with, and then they go and offer above and beyond what people expected. It’s wonderful to have a connection, being a first- time parent – to be told, This is normal, this is how a child behaves, learns language,'” she added.

Thor “loves to come here. I think he senses what a welcoming environment it is, and that he’s free to explore,” she said. “This is how she is with the children,” gesturing over to Warren, “my son is sitting on her lap” reading a book with her and talking.

Her library is not a quiet place, Warren laughed.

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