Program brings preschool-age children into Millard schools for story time - Omaha.com
Published Saturday, October 19, 2013 at 1:00 am / Updated at 9:22 am
Program brings preschool-age children into Millard schools for story time

First to arrive is 4-year-old Natasha Beckerbauer.

She immediately plops down in front of the cart full of goodies.

But these goodies aren’t food. They’re picture books for preschool readers.

Natasha knows she’ll get to pick out five of them to take home with her.

It’s one of the best things about coming to a Millard Public Schools Circle of Friends Preschool Story Time.

Natasha and her mother, Jacqueline, are soon joined in the Neihardt Elementary School library by Gina Wiitanen and her two children, Taylor, 3, and Abigail, 18 months.

And that’s it for this particular Wednesday, although a month earlier there had been about a dozen kids. It’s like that sometimes, especially at the beginning of the year, says Linda Walters, who leads the story time at eight Millard schools.

She’s a preschool-family liaison, certified media specialist and parent educator for the Millard Public Schools.

The Circle of Friends story time is designed to give 3- and 4-year-olds and their families first contact with a school setting and to introduce them to the wonder of books.

“It’s a chance to get books into the hands of families,” Walters says. “We want to engage families before the kids come to school.”

Studies have shown that children who are exposed to books and are read aloud to early in life become better students when they are older, she said.

Walters has been part of the preschool story-time program since it began at Rockwell Elementary 12 years ago. It was so popular the school district tried to figure out a way to expand the program.

It wasn’t until 2009, when the district received stimulus money, that the program could purchase more books and move into more elementary schools.

Attendance can vary widely. Good-weather days, such as the day we visited, often mean fewer children because parents can let them play outside when the weather is nice.

“We always think bad weather will keep them away,” Walters says. “But more always come when it’s raining or snowing.”

The story times are open to any preschooler in the Millard Public Schools. Walters leads the program at Neihardt, Rockwell, Holling Heights, Sandoz, Cody, Bryan, Norris and Disney. Andrea Kidd is the leader at Wheeler Elementary.

Although other school districts in the area have preschool curriculum, which includes reading times, none except Millard offers a story time that is open to any preschool child in the district. Papillion-La Vista Public Schools tried a similar program to Millard’s but discontinued it this year because of a lack of interest, said district spokeswoman Annette Eyman.

Millard parents are interested. And Walters isn’t upset by the small turnout on this day — it makes no difference if there are three or 23 children.

She starts by having the children do some hand exercises. “But don’t put your fingers in your mouth,” she cautions.

“That would be yucky,” Taylor responds.

Since it’s October, Walters has come up with a Halloween/fall theme for their time together. She starts by reading “Mouse’s First Halloween” aloud. She moves quickly into having the children sing a song (“Five Little Pumpkins”) then reads “Fall Leaves Fall.” She leads another song before reading one last story, “The Old Lady Who Was Not Afraid of Anything.”

By this time, Abigail is fidgeting. So Walters quickly asks the children about things that scare them — apparently nothing does. Then she has them sing a goodbye song.

Now comes the really fun part, picking out the five books each family wants to take home. They can keep them until the next meeting in November.

It’s important for children to develop a love of reading, but it’s just as important to instill that love of reading in the parents, Walters says. The story times are a way for the parents to learn how to read aloud to their children. “Many of them are nervous about that,” she says.

This is the first year of participating for the Wiitanens. Gina Wiitanen, a fourth-grade teacher who is working part time now, says it fits into her plan to do more “mommy things.”

Jacqueline and Natasha Beckerbauer participated last school year and were eager to continue this year. “She loves it,” Jacqueline says of Natasha. “She loves the fact that she gets to pick out books. She feels like a big kid, more like her older sister.”

Contact the writer: Carol Bicak

carol.bicak@owh.com    |   402-444-1067

Carol writes about community news, local profiles, the arts and books. She also covers the zoo.

This Friday, celebrate Arbor Day where it all began
Why two hotshots ditched six-figure salaries for a life of less
Annie, my boyfriend of 3 years won't invite me to his mobile home
Kooser: 'American Life in Poetry' (April 20)
Swoosie’s voice a joy in memoir of stage, family
From fashion to baskets, a guide to the latest Easter trends
It's a pursuit of pastel at Spring Lake Park's Easter egg hunt
Want a different garden? Turn to your local greenhouse, nursery
How they met: An Omahan's 50-foot fall was best thing to ever happen to him
Annie, I'm telling you checking out nude bodies online is not porn
How to transform your wall or deck into hanging herb garden
Iowa West Foundation aids Joslyn Art Museum's repairs
Benson Hall of Fame to honor 8 graduates, 2 former educators
Omaha library staffers recommend these books
The World-Herald's weekend event recommendations
Dining review: If you're craving sushi, head to Benson's Taita
What's going on this weekend?
Dining notes: Dario’s has a new spring menu
Archives: So many wonderful old Omaha photos
Annie, drop some bereavement knowledge on these yuppies
Author Gabriel Garcia Marquez dies at 87
UNL students make dancing robot drones
Annie, this woman I paid for sex years ago is now a co-worker
Saying ‘stranger danger’ doesn’t always work, instead be direct with your child
Momaha: 10 ways to boost a kid's confidence
< >
COLUMNISTS »
Cleveland Evans: From a moody nickname to the Ninja Turtles’ bestie
In honor of April 1, this column’s about Murgatroyd and Amphelisia.
Deadline Deal thumbnail
The Jaipur in Rockbrook Village
Half Off Fine Indian Cuisine & Drinks! $15 for Dinner, or $7 for Lunch
Buy Now
FROM THE BLOGS »
Jump to a blog:
< >
SPOTLIGHT »
We Love Weddings blog
W.E. Love Weddings is about everything Omaha and everything weddings by the editors of Wedding Essentials Magazine.
Weddings and engagements
Share your exciting news with your community by placing an announcement today.
Inspired Home Omaha magazine
Sign up today to get the latest edition of Omaha's best magazine for local living, home entertainment, fashion and travel!
WORLD-HERALD ALERTS »
Want to get World-Herald stories sent directly to your home or work computer? Sign up for Omaha.com's News Alerts and you will receive e-mails with the day's top stories.
Can't find what you need? Click here for site map »