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Baby Talk: Headquarters Library class fosters early learning

By Linda Looney-Bond

lbond@news-daily.com

Parents who would like to take an active role in encouraging the development of language and motor skills in their babies, may want to enroll in a weekly class being taught at the Clayton County Headquarters Library in Jonesboro.

Baby Talk is a free class, offered on Thursdays, from 10 a.m., until 11 a.m., through Nov. 19, at 865 Battle Creek Road, in Jonesboro.

The class is open to parents and caregivers with babies who are newborn to 20 months old, according to Youth Services Librarian Bea Mengel, who instructs the class.

"There's a lot of research done on baby-brain development, and pre-literacy," said Mengel. "Because really, people think that children start to learn to read or start to understand words at a particular age, when, really, it's at birth. So we try to initiate that for the parents," she said.

A course pamphlet published by the library system states that an infant's brain develops rapidly from birth to 20 months of age. "Exposure to music, rhymes, movement activities, verbal language, and books creates brain pathways essential to your child's future development," officials explain in a pamphlet on the class.

During the class, parents and babies engage in interactive play, songs, rhymes and sharing time. Ajisha and Joseph Bowen, of Riverdale, attended the class Thursday with their 18-month-old son, Davonta.

Ajisha Bowen said her son has been enrolled in the class for two months. "He's learning a lot," she said. "They teach a lot of social skills, and get them to bond with other kids. Now, he actually knows 20 words, and he can say six letters in the alphabet," she said.

Teren Jackson, of Riverdale, was in the class for the first time Thursday with her 11-month-old daughter, Kaylin. "I came to the class for her to get some social interaction, and me as well," said Jackson. "I work part-time, so she goes to daycare two days a week. I also want her to learn songs and words, and basic educational skills."

Each Baby Talk class includes about 20 minutes of "play-with-a-purpose." A variety of toys, books and music are provided. The adults engage in interaction with the babies that encourages language and motor skills, such as stacking and counting blocks, and associating words with colors.

Another 15 to 20 minutes is spent in "circle time" - sharing stories, rhymes, and songs, as well as pointing out pictures and repeating words and phrases.

Then parents spend about 10 minutes, one-on-one, with their babies, reading books during storytime.

"It's really about teaching the parents what they can do," said Mengel. "We try to encourage the parents to continue some of the activities at home."

Mengel said she has taught the Baby Talk class at the headquarters library for six years, and that it is rewarding to receive feedback from parents whose children have participated in the class.

"We're always getting feedback from parents, saying how they think that their children have done better because they've had exposure to the program," she said.

Mengel said many parents continue to participate in the library's programs for older children as well. "After Baby Talk, we try to encourage the parents to bring their child - once they turn 21 months - to our storytime for toddlers. So, we've seen some of the kids transition to other programs, and to pre-school. So they do come back," she said.

For safety reasons, Mengel said, siblings, 21 months to 6 years old, may not attend Baby Talk. "Our primary concern is the safety of the children," she said. "Under [age] six, they're a little more active. They do get a little more physical, and plow over the children, or take toys away from the children. It also takes attention away from mom.

"When they're older than six, they're kind of like a helper to mom," she said.

Parents interested in attending must register weekly for the class. It has limited space for the first 15 adult-child pairs who register for each class. For registration information, visit the Headquarters Library Youth Services Department, or call (770) 473-3850.