Your Community: Storytimes booming at Johnson County Library

Help your child discover the joys of reading and develop early literacy skills at Storytime. Listen to expert librarians bring stories to life. Sing along and learn rhymes. Perform fingerplays and movement activities.

The toddlers in Angelica Reiff’s Storytime at Oak Park Library wiggle their way through exercises, chortle with delight while singing songs, and sit engrossed as she reads aloud. For the children, it’s 30 minutes of fun. But for Reiff and Johnson County Library’s other Storytime leaders, this is crucial educational enrichment. “It’s brain development,” says Reiff, an Oak Park youth services librarian since 2014. Reiff quotes research by author Jackie Silberg to note that “although the brain is capable of learning throughout life, nothing will ever again match this most exuberant time of learning.”

Reiff starts with gentle motor skill activities. She teaches sounds and words through rhymes and music. She knows the books that kids will love, like “In the Snow,” by Sharon Phillips Denslow and “How Do Dinosaurs Say I Love You?” by Jane Yolen. Reiff references Silberg again to add that “when the rhythm and melody of language become part of a child’s life, learning to read will be as natural as learning to walk and talk.”

Patrons are taking note. Johnson County Library’s Storytimes are booming. 2019 was a record attendance year for the system’s birth-to-six programming. “We’ll hit 45,000 for the first time ever,” says Bradley Debrick, Early Literacy Coordinating Librarian since 2012. That’s partly because of the new Monticello and Lenexa branches. System wide, patrons recognize Storytime’s value in preparing children to read. From January through November 2019, Storytime touched more than 24,000 children and 18,000 adults, mostly at Library branches but also through Head Start and community center outreach.

Reiff frequently hosts close to 50 toddlers and adults. Storytimes at Blue Valley, Leawood, Corinth and Lenexa are often so crowded that they have to do ticketing or name tags to manage attendance. There’s no cookie-cutter curriculum. Debrick says Johnson County Library hires skilled youth librarians and celebrates their individual creativity. The system has about 40 regular Storytime leaders, many of whom get rave reviews from patrons.

At Oak Park’s Dec. 9 toddler Storytime class, parents said Reiff teaches their kids how to listen and learn. “Angelica is wonderful,” said Overland Park resident Kim Wiley, mother of 4-year-old Hazel and 1-year-old Oscar. “She’s very engaged with the kids. She has a calming presence.” Wiley said Storytime has helped create a community of friends among the parents and children. Lenexa resident Cheri Watts makes a point of bringing her 2-year-old granddaughter Emma to Reiff’s sessions. “She’s one of the best,” Watts said. Jamie Mull, of Overland Park, regularly attends with her 4-year-old daughter Penny and 2-year-old son Isaac. “She’s very in tune with the group,” Mull said. “When they need more wiggle, she gives them more wiggle.”

Reiff is also responsive to Latino families and has bilingual book readings as needed. She meets with families before and after Storytime, providing advice on good books and early literacy strategies. One mother recently told Reiff that her daughter was sitting at home with all the books in front of her. She got a doll and began singing the songs, just like Reiff does at Storytime. That shows the impact, Reiff beamed. “It makes a Librarian’s day.”

To find upcoming Storytimes near you, visit jocolibrary.org/storytimes.

Johnson County Library – Nurturing the Community’s Collective Wisdom