Homegrown with Hope: Fostering a love for reading

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BISMARCK, N.D. - The research is overwhelming that reading to and with our children gives them the building blocks to become strong learners and communicators.

As it turns out, cracking open a book can be one of the greatest ways the show the little ones in your life just how much you care about them.

For this Homegrown with Hope, we knew exactly where to start.

If your idea of the children's section in the Bismarck Veterans Memorial Library is stuffy, stale and silent, you haven't seen it shine yet.

It radiates from Jana Maher, though she is better known as Miss Sparkles.

"I literally get to read books and give hugs, so what's better than that," Miss Sparkles asked.

She coordinates programming and story time for infants up to fifth graders.

"We really want children to come here and embrace their imaginations. We want it to feel magical," she said.

Miss Sparkles carries on a tradition of more than 30 years, bringing the books on the library's shelves to life through song, dance and puppetry. Some programs she leaves the puppets out, depending on what parents and caregivers are looking for to entertain their children.

"You learn so much language and development even just through singing and movement," she said.

Researchers agree that programs like these help kids build a wide vocabulary, which is linked to stronger math skills and even higher test scores. But, it doesn't end there.

"The main thing is so they can interact with kids during the day," Craig Anderson explains why he brings his grandchildren to story time. "Then, they're able to follow instructions from Miss Sparkles, of course."

Anderson says he loves seeing his grandkids develop social skills here.

"Time together is really what it is," Miss Sparkles adds, building the case that reading doesn't have to be a solitary sport. In fact, it's much more impactful when it includes loved ones.

"I hope that reading, especially like in a lap-sit situation, it just brings warmth and comfort," she said. "I hope they read a story and they feel the affection. So books and love kind of go together."

Her singing, dancing, page turning and hugs are all tools in her lesson plan to teach these students love. Miss Sparkles says she often hears from parents who started their children at the library during lap-sit story times, and their grade school teachers credit their success in reading with early childhood visits to her programs.