The first chapter UNO students get look at how children engage with reading at Sump Memorial Library

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Posted: Monday, September 16, 2013 12:00 am

As the father of four children, Vince Martin has attended his fair share of library storytimes. But none has compared to the all-ages storytime at Sump Memorial Library.

This time, Martin wasn't attending storytime as an observing parent. Instead, he was there as a participating student.

Martin and three other students from the University of Nebraska at Omaha joined 20 children for an event to give UNO students a hands-on experience working with children's literature. The kids, who piled onto a brightly colored rug in the library, listened to stories, danced, sang and made crafts.

UNO students enrolled in a children's literature course will visit the library as part of a partnership with the Sump for one of the library's all-ages storytimes to help set up, conduct and clean up the event.

“It's to help emphasize the community resources they have available to them,” said Wendy Loewenstein, in the library services faculty at UNO.

The majority of the 81 students enrolled in the undergraduate course are elementary education majors but others are studying speech and language pathology, early childhood development and other education-related fields.

The partnership came about when Cathy McMahon, Sump's youth services manager, spoke about library partnerships in one of Loewenstein's classes.

Sump is now one of four libraries working with UNO on the project. The other libraries are La Vista, Ralston and the Saddlebrook branch of the Omaha Public Library.

With the additional sites, the project has become more structured, Loewenstein said. When the project first started, students had to pick one summer reading event to attend. Now, youth services managers identify specific events for students to attend. Students then can select what event and what location to visit based on their schedules.

Over four storytime events, 20 UNO students will visit Sump.

Storytime at Sump is popular and growing, with anywhere from 12 to 50 children at each event. It's open to all ages. Attendees range from babies to 6-year-olds, McMahon said.

Many of the storytime attendees are regulars. Jennifer Jackson takes her sons, Barrett, 4, and Brogan, 2, to storytime once a week.

“The boys love it,” Jackson said. “It's a good way to learn and have fun at the same time.”

For their visits, UNO students spend about an hour and a half at the library.

“They may not see the in-depth preparation it takes to organize a storytime or our other diverse programs,” said Robin Clark, Sump library director.

McMahon starts students off with a tour of the children's section. She goes over how she selects books for each storytime. While she only reads two or three stories per event, she has anywhere from eight to 10 story options.

“It's not a fly by the seat of your pants thing,” McMahon said. “There's a science. I choose what fits my audience.”

McMahon mixes songs and dances in between stories to keep kids focused.

“Music and movement is huge in storytime,” McMahon said.

UNO students aren't there just to observe. They're active participants.

“It's very hands-on. It's not a thing where they stand against the wall,” Clark said.

The learning doesn't end when storytime is up. Students write reflection papers on what they saw at the library. They reflect on techniques used in reading stories aloud, behavior management, organization and managing a group of parents and children.

“It goes beyond the experience,” Loewenstein said. “They sit back and reflect on what they've seen.”

The papers are shared with McMahon, Clark and the library board.

In November, once most students have completed their visit, McMahon and youth services managers from the other libraries visit UNO classes for a question-and-answer session.

McMahon encourages questions and has even seen former students return to the library for help in other classes.

“When they come in with a specific question, that's huge,” McMahon said. “The sooner these students get into the library, it makes their school journey so much easier.”

Loewenstein hopes to see the program continue to grow with additional sites.

“When they get into their desired professions, they see public libraries as resources,” Loewenstein said. “It creates more partnerships with public libraries.”

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