Senior citizens help promote children's enthusiasm for reading

Librarians in the sunny winter haven of Yuma, Ariz., are polishing a program to teach senior citizens storytelling techniques geared for young audiences. The Gray Panther Program, scheduled to begin this fall, is designed to offer older people the opportunity to develop new talents while promoting children's enthusiasm for books and reading at an early age.

The idea was conceived by two members of the Yuma Library Council, a local organization of school, public, academic, and special librarians in the Yuma area. Sandy Lobeck, director of library media services for a Yuma elementary school district, and Irma Kae Mitchell, children's librarian for the Yuma Public Library, pooled their ideas to involve senior community members in creative reading activities aimed at youngsters.

''The program meets our needs beautifully,'' Mrs. Lobeck says. ''We have a lot of preschools in the area, and some school libraries are run by volunteers. There is a great shortage of staff and programming.''

The two women submitted their plan to the Children's Book Council in New York , which awarded the Yuma Library Council a $500 grant to help fund the project.

''The program was unique to us, and that's why we were impressed with it,'' says John Donovan, executive director of the Children's Book Council.

The Gray Panther Program will consist of a five-week session for 20 senior citizens taught by school and public librarians with expertise in children's literature. The material covered will focus on child development, the history of children's literature, storytelling techniques, puppetry, and craft activities relating to the story.

Once they have completed the course, the senior citizens will give storytelling presentations to preschools and kindergarten classes in the public school system.

''Each person will develop a complete storytelling kit including mood music, puppets, finger plays, and the book itself,'' Mrs. Lobeck says.

Yuma is a popular winter residence for senior citizens who want to the escape the cold and the snow, she explains. When they go back to their hometowns in the summer, Mrs. Lobeck hopes graduates of the program will volunteer their services to preschools and libraries in their own communities.

''We hope this will be an ongoing program and not just a one-time thing,'' she says. The Yuma Library Council would like to offer the course every year or to expand on the course work for senior citizens who took part in the program previously. The instructors also plan to develop a handbook for other communities interested in adopting the program.

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