I don't remember the first book I read, but I do have clear memories of sitting with a book in my lap, turning the cardboard-like pages and sounding out the words. (Yes, they taught phonics in my day.) The earliest books I remember reading are the masters – you know, like Dr. Seuss and "Green Eggs and Ham." I can still recite parts of that book, and I'll bet many of you can, too.
My mind still carries the imprints of those and other stories, and I'm certain that it was that early love of reading that compelled me to eventually begin writing my own. If you're a parent or caregiver and you're reading this column, my guess is that you have that same love of reading (maybe even writing), and that you want to share that love with the children in your life.
Fortunately, today's parents have a variety of resources to help even their youngest children develop into readers, and possibly writers.
Thanks to our local libraries, you can get your child started with reading from as early as infancy. The Williamsburg Public Library, for example, offers "Baby Time," a drop-in story time for infants through age 2. The Poquoson Public Library offers "Babygarten," for ages 2 to 24 months.
For toddlers, you'll probably find a suitable program at most area libraries. Visit the Hampton Public Library's Northampton branch for "The Storytime Express-Preschool Story Hour" (preschoolers of all ages) or the Mathews Memorial Library for "Story Time Stories" (18 months to age 5). Parents of preschoolers (birth to age 5) might also want to check out the Poquoson Public Library's "1,000 Books Before Kindergarten" program, which challenges parents to help their children prepare for school by reading 1,000 books before that first big day.
School-aged children can participate in "Paws to Read," a program that invites children from ages 6 to 12 to read aloud to a trained therapy dogs, available through the York County, Newport News, and Hampton public libraries. The Hampton library also offers a "Kids' Book Club" for children in first through third grades. Competitive-minded students can join in the "Battle of the Books," an annual program which calls for participants (grades 4 through 8) to read 15 books and test their knowledge against students from area schools.
Teens aren't left out of the program mix either. The Blackwater Regional Library website provides links to several virtual worlds for teens that, according to the website, allow "opportunities for learning, developing literacy and leadership skills, gaming, creative expression and role-playing in a simulated environment." The Newport News Library System hosts its Teen Urban Lit Book Club, and the Hampton Public Library hosts a "Teen Book 2 Film" program. Several local libraries have teen advisory committees as well.
Across the water, The Muse Writers Center in Norfolk is offering a Teen Writers Workshop (2 sections) beginning Saturday, February 2. This is a 6-week class, taught by writers Sarah Pringle and/or Lauren Hurston, open to writers ages 12 to 17, all levels and experience. Class time runs from 10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., for a six-week period. Tuition: $185. For complete details and information about other programs, call the writing center at (757) 818-9880, or check the website.
Even families can get in on the action. The Library of Virginia offers a "Day by Day VA Family Literacy Activity Calendar" in which parents and children can, according to its website, "embark on an adventure together through books and reading and the many fun-filled activities that spring from them." For more information, go to daybydayva.org.
These are just a handful of the many programs available to local residents. I encourage you to drop by your neighborhood library with your children and let them experience for themselves the feel of that book in their hands. You never know, you might be leading the next J.K. Rowling down the path of authorship.
A few weeks back I wrote about upcoming learning activities for adults, including Christopher Newport University's 32nd Annual Writers' Conference. (If you missed it, go to dailypress.com/writersblock.com and look for the January 10th article on local learning opportunities.) I have since learned that developmental programs are available for children as well on Feb. 23rd, thanks to the sponsorship of the Friends of the Newport News Public Library, in partnership with CNU's Lifelong Learning Society.
In "We Love Books," for children up to age 7. author Kim Norman presents a program of reading, audience participation and singing, to be held from 9:30 to 10:15 a.m. in the Community Room of the Newport News Main Street Library.
In "Kids Write the Words," for ages 8 and older, Norman will lead the children in topics ranging from brainstorming to dealing with the inner critic. The program will be held from 10:30 to 11:30 in the Community Room of the Newport News Main Street Library.
Parents and teachers might want to join author Laurie Krebs and Joanne Dingus in a discussion of new and exciting ways to encourage young writers. Their presentation, "Developing Young Writers," will be held from 2 to 3 p.m. at the Christopher Newport University Freeman Center. For complete details, contact the Friends of the Newport News Public Library via email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or go to http://www.nnfopl.com/