“Is it a Rose day?”

By Brita Zitin
Rose Golden, a Born to Read volunteer, enthusiastically engages with her inquisitive audience.
photo: brita zitin

In 1996, the Retired Senior Volunteer Program placed an ad in the Kennebec Journal calling for people age 55 and over to read aloud in child care centers. The ad caught Rose Golden’s eye. Rose had retired from the newspaper business and moved from New Jersey to Maine the year before. She had no background in education; with the exception of her grandchildren, she had little contact with young people. But Rose went through training to become a Born to Read volunteer, and she’s been visiting the MaineGeneral Early Learning Center in Augusta once a week ever since, making her the longest-serving volunteer on the current roster.

Rose always starts her visits in the preschool room. She stacks two child-sized chairs and perches on top, rifling through her Born to Read tote bag. The first book she pulls out is Aliki’s Quiet in the Garden, but the 4- and 5-year-olds are anything but quiet as they pull out their carpet squares and form a sloppy circle. Rose is not daunted by their chatter: she learned long ago not to expect to start at the front cover of a picture book and read straight through to the end. Instead, she moves the book from left to right and turns the pages so everyone can see. This technique, which literacy experts call a “picture walk,” helps engage children in making predictions about a story before it’s read aloud. Whatever it’s called in the field, Rose knows that it works to settle her group.

Another technique that Rose has developed from a combination of Born to Read training, experience, and good instinct, is the use of “book vocabulary” such as “illustrations,” “author,” and “characters.” The children take these words in stride, so today she gives them a new one. “I think these illustrations really enhance the book,” she says. “Don’t they help you to imagine the story?” The children have something new to teach Rose today, too. They reveal that they’re planting a garden at their child care for the first time this year, and when asked what they’re growing, one girl calls out “soybeans!” Rose admits that while she has fond memories of devouring fresh garden peas with her brother, she has never tried planting soybeans.

Rose animates a board book for one of her young charges, Owen.
photo: brita zitin

The emphasis of Born to Read, consistent with early literacy research, is not reading instruction, but the conversation that takes place before, during, and after reading aloud. Conversation presents new words and concepts to children in context. It helps them connect the stories they hear to their own lives, so that they can see Quiet in the Garden, for instance, as a reflection of their own green patch beyond the classroom walls. By the time Rose closes the book, they know that a “radish” is something you grow, just like a soybean. They also know that their friend Rose cares about their garden project, and the stories they have to tell about it.

In the toddler room, the routine is relaxed. The children tumble together on one rug, jumping up by turn to help turn pages, sing songs, and point to colors. They delight in the cardboard props that go along with Rose’s special toolbox book. One girl tells everyone about the hammer her mother has at home. A boy chimes in to explain what a saw is for. Rose spends more time with the pencil than any other tool. She demonstrates how to hold it, mimes using it to write, and gestures to the basket of crayons on the art table to connect the prop to the real thing. Without putting too fine a point on it, she suggests that the pencil is the most powerful tool of all.

Does it matter to these toddlers that Rose demonstrates writing instead of just reading aloud? They’re too young to pronounce most words, let alone write them. Yet research consistently shows that exposure to language prepares children for school more reliably than any flash card or computer program. Exposure in the context of interactions with caring adults is even more reliable. “Rose has provided our children with something so special to look forward to each and every week,” says Julie Battersby, director of the Early Learning Center. “The children ask, on a daily basis, ‘Is this a Rose day?’” The equation is simple and powerful: because the children love and trust Rose, they are invested in what she shows them; they associate pencils with pleasure, reading with relationships, words with wonder.

By the time Rose reaches the infant room, all but one of the babies is napping. She shares two board books with Owen before packing her bags to leave. “I don’t know who has more fun,” she says as she leaves, “me or the kids.” Rose’s skill as a reader—developed not from a career as a teacher, but from years of practice—shows that anyone can turn a love of reading into a gift for the young children in their community.

If you are 55 or over (retirement is not a pre-requisite!), we invite you to join RSVP as a Born to Read volunteer. Click here to learn how to get in touch with your local RSVP office. RSVP does not cover Androscoggin or Oxford counties, Bath/Brunswick, or Lewiston/Auburn. If you live in one of those areas, or if you’re not yet 55, please consider referring a friend to Born to Read. For other opportunities to share books with young children, you can also consult volunteermaine.org.

Born to Read Volunteers, 2008-2009

In the past 18 months, Born to Read volunteers have served for the first time in Washington County, Mount Desert Island, and northern Aroostook County. A special initiative on North Haven took six volunteers to that island’s sole early childhood program, Laugh & Learn. Participation remains strong in Southern and Central Maine. Around 80 volunteers are currently reading in Head Start classrooms, public pre-Ks, YMCAs, and private programs, both home-based and center-based.

Thank you to all our dedicated volunteers: Waite Albro | Judy Ambrose | Gail Bach | Terry Baird | Linda Ballard | Elaine Barrett | Virginia Beagle | Millie Bean | Loretta Beaney | Cheryl Beverage | Deborah Blake | Denise Blanchard | Virginia Borgatti | Margaret Broucek | Cora Brown | Naomi Burns | Susan Cassidy | Stephen Cilley | Jeanette Conley | Sally Connolly | Noralie Cox | Sherry Crossno | Catherine Cummings | Pat Curtis | Deadra D’Addeo | Anne-Marie DaCosta | Susan Davis | Sylvia Davis | Nancy Dell | Amy Dentico | Kelsea Dixon | Eva Downs | Robert Ehmann | Susan Elliott | Shelagh Fitzgerald | Linda E. Gamble | Jean Ann Gaudet | Nancy Goddard | Rose Golden | Evelyn Goodridge | James M. Gower | Martha Grubb | Mary Guy | Lorraine Haag | Jean Hanington | Margot Harrison | Nancy Hayward | Phyllis Hayward | Rosemary Hede | Evelyn Hedges | Lorraine Hepler | Verna Hewitt | Mary Kelley | Arlene Hutnik | Liga Jahnke | Anne Marie Kenney | Linda Kingdon | Barbara Knowles | Susan Koch | Barbara Korn | Virginia Kurtz | Lorraine LaChapelle | Rita Leblond | Susan Leeds | Annie Libby | Katharine W. Lynn | Sheila MacDonald | Judith Manion | Donald Marley | Paula Marquis | Joyce Martin | Claire Meuse | Marti Meyers | Hilda Michaud | Janet Michaud | Pam Michaud | K. Anne Monsivais | Mary Moriarty | Florence Morrison | Janine Myers | Sandi Myers | Lucille O’Donnell | Diana Oliver | Louise Patterson | Patricia Payson | Marilyn Peller | Ron Pesha | Ronna Marie Pesha | Linda Pieper | Beverly Pillsbury | Walter Plaut, Jr. | Helen Popp | Maggie Poulin | Norman Rasulis | Kenneth Read | Arline Recht | Cecile Reilly | Edward Riggs | Kathy Rioux | Sandra Rocco | Joyce N. Rogers | Linda Rouse | Marilyn Rundlett | Mary Ryder | Dawn P. Safford | Sue Sagek | Estelle Sanders | Valerie Scanlon | Virginia Schultz | Marie Schnetzka | Beth Schwenk | Celeste Sherman | Jane Snyder | Sarah Spector | Melissa St. Germain | Susan Swain | Jo Taft | Bonnie Rae Tallagnon | Evelyn Tarantino | Janet Tarbuck | Deborah Taylor | Fran Trefts | Christina Tut | Guinevere Twitchell | Marilyn Underwood | Margaret Vodnick | Carol Wall | Brenda Wallace | Mary Anne Wallace | Claudia Walton | Ann Warner | Anna Warren | Louise Way | Elizabeth Weber | Nancy Weiner | Joan Wing | Susan Wishkoski | Janet Witherspoon | Margaret White | Sheila White | Nancy Worthington | Tricia Wurpel | Mary Ann Yannet