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Hands-on approach taps the imagination

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Reading or telling stories to children involves creating a whole world on the spot. It's planned in the mind of the reader or teller and is translated by special words that do special things. If it's bright, colorful and inviting, children will enter the world with their own imaginations and learn.

Beth Pieper knows how to do this especially well. Pieper is a youth services librarian who has learned how to relate to children by doing just that - relating to children. It's the hands-on approach, and it works.Pieper's world at an Evansville, Ind., library is a bright, inviting open space ready for children to come in and find space on the floor. Her adventure always begins with something called the Touch Box. Children love the Touch Box. Children put their hands and arms in the stocking that leads to the center of the box, where an object is to be identified. It connects to the story.

Pieper holds the Touch Box and shakes it vigorously. "What do you suppose is in the box?" she ask.

A child feels "A rock. Something hard."

When she rolls the box we hear the object slide.

"A car," comes the revised answer.

"It's a truck, and today's story is about driving," says Pieper with that special enthusiasm that rivets kids to the action.

Pieper's storytelling uses an enthusiastic, positive reinforcement to strengthen every child's self-esteem and to bring the children together as a group.

"It's also important to know what every child is doing - and what the group likes, what's working. Being on top of things - everything - means we are all reading the story together," Pieper explains.

"If they don't like the story, they will get up and go - you've lost them. I want them to be part of the story, to experience the story."

In order that the children may experience the story with more oomph, Pieper uses props, music, drama, finger plays and singing.

"Singing is a good way to keep the very young child involved," says Pieper, who is often asked how she gets children to sit long enough for story time. She tells parents that a variety of activities will enhance a story and make the whole experience for the child something he wants to do, naturally drawing in all a child's attention.

Parents can understand this when story time is finished. The children have been able to actually play with the story, trying it on physically and emotionally. With cars and trucks, they have played driving; they've done a little song about it, and they have worked out finger plays to help them understand the story. They have laughed and held their breaths with suspense.

The whole point of storytelling and reading is language enrichment, which means increased listening skills, prereading skills and an increased vocabulary and understanding of the world.

A good storyteller or reader will choose stories that delight as well as instruct.

When asked why she likes telling stories to children, Pieper replies, "Children are so receptive and enthusiastic, and when they come back they remember you and the story. Children are full of energy and they appreciate what you do for them. It's so much fun."

Pieper has a lot of fun with her story time as well. She enters the world right along with the children, which also draws them in.

When the teacher leads the children into the imaginary world, it's the difference between an affection of the heart and simply reading a story.

"Last week," she says, "I called my husband and told him that I read a story about a ladybug and that I got to be the ladybug, and he replied, `You're in the right work.' "

The children think so, too.