This blog represents most of the newspaper columns (appearing in various Colorado Community Newspapers and Yourhub.com) written by me, James LaRue, during the time in which I was the director of the Douglas County Libraries in Douglas County, Colorado. (Some columns are missing, due to my own filing errors.) This blog covers the time period from April 11, 1990 to January 12, 2012.

Unless I say so, the views expressed here are mine and mine alone. They may be quoted elsewhere, so long as you give attribution. The dates are (at least according my records) the dates of publication in one of the above print newspapers.

The blog archive (web view) is in chronological order. The display of entries, below, seems to be in reverse order, new to old.

All of the mistakes are of course my own responsibility.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

July 7, 2011 - spellbinders

[This column is by Priscilla Queen, a Literacy Specialist for the Douglas County Libraries.]

A few weeks ago, in a letter to the editor, Irma Backelant asked, “Have grandparents become the nuisance generation?” She described feeling like an outsider when her grown children’s friends complained about the annoyance their parents have become. Backelant realized that the complaints were being made about her fellow grandparents, and was aghast at their being ridiculed rather than valued as the elder generation.

Last year I became a grandmother myself and hope to figure out how to be helpful and wise in this new role. Mrs. Backelant’s question also spurred me to respond and share a few programs and activities that Douglas County Libraries offers the community to the benefit of children and elders alike: Spellbinders and Book Start.

Traditional stories demonstrate that elders can be a source of wisdom and perspective for younger generations. They also illustrate the consequences of rash and callow behavior by the young, as in this old German tale:

There was once a very old man whose eyes had grown dim, his ears dull of hearing. His knees trembled. When he sat at table he could hardly hold his spoon and spilled broth upon the tablecloth. His son and his son’s wife were disgusted at this, so the old grandfather sat in the corner behind the stove. They gave him meager food in an earthenware bowl. He looked to the table with his eyes full of tears. Once he dropped the bowl and it broke. The young wife scolded him. He said nothing, but only sighed. After that they brought his food in a wooden bowl that could not break.

One day there were sitting thus when the little grandson of four began to gather some bits of wood upon the ground. “What are you doing there?” asked the father. “I am making a trough,” answered the child, “for you and Mother to eat out of when I am big.”

The man and his wife looked at each other, and began to cry. Then they took the old grandfather to the table, and henceforth let him eat with them, and likewise said nothing if he did spill a little of anything.

Spellbinders was developed precisely to give older folks a positive role in their communities. Spellbinders tell stories to classrooms of children, recreating the age-old custom of storytelling on the front porch or around a fire. The children who listen to the stories of our Spellbinders reap the benefits of a rich literacy activity.

Spellbinders volunteers are 55 or older because one goal is to connect generations and provide an experience with a grandparent for school-aged children. Children have thanked our Spellbinders with heartfelt enthusiasm. One boy wrote, “My grandpa doesn’t live close. Thank you for being my grandpa for a day.”

Spellbinders develop traditional folktales or create new stories from personal anecdotes. Douglas County Libraries Literacy Department and Douglas County School District have partnered to offer this free classroom enrichment to teachers and school librarians. It is a unique opportunity that supports literacy in many ways. Spellbinders also enjoy camaraderie with each other through regular meetings and other events in the community.

Book Start is another intergenerational volunteer program giving children the experiences that show that “adults in my community care about me.” This program provides training in current early literacy techniques and places volunteers with local child care facilities where they read aloud weekly. Preschool age children are in a vital time of language development. Science shows that if those early years are filled with playful words and a love of books, children have much improved chances for later success in school. Our training will show you how to blend beautifully written books with simple songs and fingerplays you might have thought you forgot. Book Start volunteers discover that reading aloud with young children makes a big difference in the lives of both generations.

We all have a need to be respected in our older years. If you are looking for opportunities to become that wise elder, to engage with the younger generation and stay young at heart, please consider volunteering in one or both of our literacy programs.

Spellbinder training is scheduled for August 1, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. and August 5, 9 a.m. to noon. The 10-hour training will be held at Philip S. Miller Library in Castle Rock; you must attend both sessions. Please contact Priscilla Queen at pqueen@dclibraries.org or 303-688-7626 for more information and to register.

The next Book Start training is scheduled for Wednesday, July 20, 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. and another on August 17th, 9:30-12:30 both at Philip S. Miller Library in Castle Rock. Please contact Geri Domareck, gdomareck@dclibraries.org, for more information and to register.

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