By Lisa Henties
A few dozen Loudoun County public school students got a chance to practice their speaking skills this week when they read books in front of a crowd of parents, teachers and classmates.
Students from four schools read during the 16th annual celebration of the Books for Babies program. Loudoun County Public Schools and Inova Loudoun Hospital have been collaborating since 2000, providing each newborn at the hospital with three age-appropriate stories in English and Spanish.
About 3,000 books are given to newborns’ parents each year. With Books for Babies, the school system and hospital encourage young parents to read to their children from the very beginning of their lives to foster an early love of reading. It’s also meant to get elementary students excited about books.
Therefore, supporters, such as Books-a-Million, donate books to Loudoun elementary schools each year. A representative from the Loudoun County Public Libraries encouraged the students to get a library card. She said the county’s libraries offer a variety of books for every age with the goal of building “a community of lifelong readers.”
Studies show that reading to children from “day one” can have an enormous influence on their development. Not only does it help improve their vocabulary, but enhances their overall knowledge.
Ahead of the Books for Babies’ 16th anniversary celebration Wednesday, the students, grades 3-5, practiced ambitiously to read their parts. Some of them illustrated the books’ content by wearing costumes and acting. Principals at the four elementary schools— Sanders Corner, Newton-Lee, Leesburg, and Mountain View—did not necessarily choose their best readers, but rather students at different reading levels.
After their presentations, the students received their well-deserved applause and a certificate for “being an outstanding guest reader.”
“I was really nervous and shaky at first, but once I got up there, I felt ready,” said 9-year-old Constance, a student at Mountain View Elementary School in Purcellville.
The Books for Babies program has been a huge success, according to Jennifer Sedlmeyer, clinical specialist at The Birthing Inn at Inova Loudoun. She said she often sees parents or even siblings reading the donated books to their newest family member.
She’s seen reading become a way for parents to connect with their newborn babies, especially with infants who are too fragile to be held because of an early birth or illness.
Sedlmeyer herself is a parent who read the Books for Babies to her daughter when she was born. Now, years later, she was one of the elementary student readers at Wednesday’s celebration.
Shawn Lyons, the principal of Newton-Lee Elementary, told those gathered that reading can spark creativity and a love of knowledge early on. “Do it and watch the kids grow,” he said.
Lisa Henties is an exchange student from Loudoun County’s sister district Main-Taunus-Kreis, Germany. She job-shadowed at Loudoun Now through the George C. Marshall Education Center’s Student Partnership Exchange Program.