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Baby steps to reading
Through words and song, librarian Vonda Henderson has given local kids the gift of learning
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Vonda Henderson leads Baby Steps story time, a program that incorporates songs and quality time with parents to teach reading.

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Hall County librarian Vonda Henderson talks about creating a comfortable environment for the Baby Steps story time program she led for the past seven years.

Give Hall County librarian Vonda Henderson a story book, a felt board and a group of rowdy toddlers and she will tame the little tykes for a half hour while instilling in them a love for reading.

For the past seven years, Henderson has led six-week-long sessions of the Baby Steps story time program at multiple Hall County library locations.

In that time, she estimates more than 500 babies and accompanying parents participated in her story time program, where she brings children's stories to life with songs, felt characters and play time.

But Henderson stopped reading stories and singing songs to Hall County children in October. As a result of a recent promotion, Henderson will no longer lead the Baby Steps program. But story time will go on, and another library assistant will now take the reins.

Henderson, a mother of two teenagers, graduated with a master's degree in library and information science from the University of Alabama in December, and was promoted from library assistant to library supervisor.

After experiencing Henderson's reading extravaganza, some parents say story time will never be the same without her.

"She loves what she does and it's known by the kids," said parent Lynne Warren. "We went to other story times at other places, but they didn't sing. It wasn't like Vonda's story time."

Warren began taking her sons Sam, 3, and Randy, 4, to story time at the Hall County library branch in Murrayville when they were 4 months old. She said Henderson was her sons' first teacher, and was an "exceptional" one.

"My whole reason for going is I want them to read and want them to appreciate music," Warren said.

Through finger plays like "The Itsy Bitsy Spider" and others conducted in Spanish or French, Henderson broadened the horizons for many of Hall County's children and taught mothers how to bond with babies as they promoted early literacy.

While Warren credits Henderson's story time as an impetus for her children's expanding vocabulary, the mother of four said she was most grateful for Henderson's influence in her children's lives during a flight to California. Warren kept Randy calm on the flight by singing tunes Henderson introduced to the family, such as "Hurry, Hurry Drive the Fire Truck" and "The Wheels on the Bus."

Henderson said although she plans to lead story time occasionally to fill in for employees on vacation or out sick, she will miss the time with toddlers - and their mothers.

Warren and Henderson agree the story time created a special social circle of sorts for mothers and their babies.

"I wish all babies could be in a program like this," Henderson said. "It's a sweet time, and it goes by quick for parents. At the time you think, ‘when am I going to be out of this diaper stage?' But before you know it, it's gone and they're off."

Warren said one of the composed librarian's best attributes was that the rambunctious group of up to 20 babies and toddlers didn't ruffle her feathers. Henderson described the 30-minute story session as "fun chaos."

"I knew I was doing something right when the kids started crying when they left the library," Henderson said.

"Even though they're not sitting still sometimes and it seems they're not learning, they are. Reading aloud is the best thing parents can do for their children. It's a great bonding time and it creates a life-long reader at an early age."

Henderson said it's never too early for parents to start reading to a child. In fact, she said, the earlier, the better.

She said the most rewarding aspect of her job as storyteller was to see the fruits of her labor. Some of her former toddlers learned to read as early as the summer before entering kindergarten.

Henderson said parents can take steps to implementing their own story time program at home. She recommends parents read "The Read-Aloud Handbook" by Jim Trelease for more information on how to productively incorporate reading into the lives of young children.

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