When it’s time for parents to register their kids for the popular Circle and Story Time programs, the front of the Weehawken Public Library resembles a deli counter. The crowd congregates around a table while numbers are passed out to ensure order.
Story Time has been in existence in some form or another at the library for more than 15 years. Due to increasing demand and a surge of younger children in Weehawken, the program was revamped and expanded to include parent-child interaction five years ago.
Assistant Library Director Kelly Fitzgerald attributes the growing success of the program to an attraction to reading in general. “Also, it’s a way for moms to meet,” she said last week. “They swap ideas.”
“I like that my daughter is able to interact with the kids in the neighborhood.” – Tiffany Pratt
“It’s a great program for children,” said Pratt. “They can socialize with other kids, learn about colors, music, and animals. It’s great developmentally.”
Pratt was also attracted to the social element. “I like that my daughter is able to interact with the kids in the neighborhood,” she said. “It’s wintertime so you can’t go to the playground, but you can go to the library.”
“Many parents come here after paying hundreds for programs like ‘Mommy and Me.’ ” – Kate McMahon
Pratt was given a CD of music to take home at the beginning of her last session at the library, which allowed her and her daughter to learn the songs at home so they can participate in class.
Nearby, Liz Marchese signed up for the program while her 14-month-old son, Hagen, already began making friends with other kids in line. “He’s definitely ready for more than staying home or shopping,” Marchese said. “He’s ready to socialize.”
Marchese and her son, who are new to the area, were directed to the program through a library newsletter. “I didn’t know it was so popular,” she said.
A community service
“There’s a lot of new children and families in Weehawken,” said Circle Time Coordinator Kate McMahon. “And the library has great, free children’s programs.” The Circle Time and Story Time programs are divided into three or four sessions throughout the year so that everyone has a chance to participate. “It is an early introduction to verbal and social skills,” said McMahon. “Many parents come here after paying hundreds for programs like ‘Mommy and Me.’ ”
The Circle Time Junior Program is targeted at children 6-18 months old and engages them in songs, nursery rhymes and finger play. Circle Time Senior is for children 19-24 months old and includes stories, songs, nursery rhymes, and the use of rhythm instruments. Story Time Tuesday is an early childhood development program for toddlers ages 2-3 years old. Children build skills through seasonal storytelling, art and music.
Moms, dads, nannies and other caregivers encourage child participation in the programs by interacting with props, balls, and puppets. The kids sing along and do the motions of the song.
“It’s very important for [the kids] to participate. They love music and performing,” said McMahon. “It’s a lot of repetition because that’s how we learn. After a few weeks it’s amazing to see how the kids are focused and participating.”
To further encourage participation, the library has enlisted help from a very special friend. “Mr. Tree” is a large puppet with moving parts who reads to the kids during Tuesday and Saturday programs. He has been a huge success with the children, many of whom were disappointed to see him “sleeping” during sign-up time.
Mr. Tree was made possible by a donation from Paine Webber (now UBS) nine years ago, which also helped create a puppet stage and nursery rhyme wall.
McMahon, who has run the program for the last four years, also agrees that it is a chance to bring parents and children together. She has seen many children who met in library programs four years ago who are now friends in school.
“I can speak from first hand experience,” said McMahon. “My son is a senior and is still friends with kids he met in library programs.”
For more information about these and other library services, please contact (201) 863-7823.
Lana Rose Diaz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.