The New Era - All about Sweet Home since 1929

County-funded library program gives kids opportunity to learn, have fun


October 28, 2020

CHILDREN listen intently as Shannon Richardson of the South Santiam Watershed Council dissects a salmon, left.

Even with sports canceled and schools closed, youngsters in Sweet Home still have the chance to have fun and learn together.

The library's childcare and enrichment program, funded by the Linn County Commission, is going strong, though it still has space for a few more students in its Monday/Tuesday cohort. The program's hours have expanded and it now runs from 6 p.m. to 8:30 at the Community Center.

Coordinator Jay Marble said he's bringing in guests as often as possible to keep the kids engaged in learning.

On Wednesday, Oct. 21, the guest was Shannon Richardson of the South Santiam Watershed Council, who brought along a steelhead to dissect.

A dozen or so wide-eyed and masked children gathered around to listen as Richardson talked about the life cycle of steelhead: from a rainbow trout in the stream to the ocean and back again.

Richardson asked the youngsters to say what their bodies have in common with the fish as she angled it back and forth.

"Skin!" one said.

"Eyes and a mouth!" said another.

"That's all the stuff on the outside," Richardson said. "Should we look on the inside?"

"Yeah!" all the kids shouted.

The adults in the room do the best they can to mitigate the risks of COVID-19, Marble said. When one 6-year-old sprawled out on the floor, a tutor asked her to stand back up and immediately gave her hand sanitizer. At other times, as the youngest kids gathered closer together to stare wide-eyed at the eviscerated fish on the table, and a tutor reminded them to try and stay 6 feet apart.

"There's no crossover in the Monday/Tuesday group and the Wednesday/Thursday group, so the risk of exposure goes way down," Marble added. 4-H is a major partner for the program too, providing structure and support through volunteer background checks, student registration and programming.

Richardson continued her dissection, pulling out eggs from the fish's belly and laying them on the table. When she told the children the fish can lay 2,000 to 5,000 eggs, their eyes grew wide.

"I want to see its brain!" 6-year-old Lotus Thornton exclaimed.

Other kids stayed at the tables with laptops, working on their schoolwork with the help of adults in the room.

Librarian Rose Peda said parents can ask for their kids to get extra help with homework.

"One little boy was learning how to borrow when you subtract, so we spent a lot of time on that," she said.

After Richardson finished her presentation, she poked the fish's guts back into place, ready to re-do her performance for the kids who had gone to the gym. When one little boy asked for the eyeball as a souvenir, she demurred.

"With COVID, I can't let everyone touch it like I would usually do," she said, frowning behind her mask. But it didn't dampen the kids' interest.

To Peda, the program goes beyond education and enrichment alone, though that is a major emphasis.

Shannon Richardson of the South Santiam Watershed Council dissects a salmon.

"With the pandemic, unless they have a very large family, they don't get that socialization with other kids," she said. "This way, they get to sit and socialize with another kid."

The youngsters are separated into groups by age, and are given craft supplies to play with, like clay or play dough.

Peda said other speakers have taught the kids about the science of color, and she plans to bring in more. "We want to offer all different kinds of learning and enrichment opportunities," she said.

Parents can sign their children up at the library, 1101 13th Ave. The program is available for kids from kindergarten through high school.


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