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First Steps Preschool Students Read “Ugly Duckling”, Given Free Books, by Humana

First Steps Preschool Students Read “Ugly Duckling”, Given Free Books, by Humana

by James Coulter

We all know the story of “The Ugly Duckling” by Hans Christian Anderson, the story about a young chick born as an ugly duckling that grew up to be a beautiful swan. That story was read to students at United Methodist Church’s First Steps in Lakeland, who were then given free storybooks donated by Humana through the Early Learning Coalition of Polk County.

Dr. Lauri Kalanges, an associate of Humana, shared the story with preschoolers on Thursday morning. She told the story from a storybook with scenic Lake Morton and its famous swans in the background. She even dressed up in a swan costume for the occasion.

“Bringing the story character in costume brings the story to life and it is so magical for the children to help them really see and visualize these characters all in helping them love to read,” she said. As for her favorite part of the occasion, it was, “seeing the children with their eyes wide open as they see the story come to life and just understand the beauty and the magic of the ugly duckling story.”

Afterwards, she and her associates from Humana and the Early Learning Coalition of Polk County gave each of the young students a donated storybook that they could take home with them to either read for themselves or have their parents read for them.

This is the second year Humana has teamed up with the Early Learning Coalition, a local non-profit organization dedicated to providing better resources and access to education to local children and their families. Dr. Kalanges recently participated with her fellow associates in the ELC’s Lip Sync Competition, where their team won first place.

As the mother of three, Nikki Cross, manager of Humana, understands the importance of reading to children and teaching them how to read on their own. For that reason, she appreciates what her organization accomplishes by donating books and offering storytelling sessions like Thursday morning’s event.She loved seeing the children’s faces lighting when the swan-dressed storyteller shared her story.

“We need to target children when they are younger and encourage that love of reading to get them interested,” she said. “I understand the importance of learning and reading and the joy my children had reading to them when they were growing up. It is a wonderful thing to encourage and grow.”

Dr. Marc Hutek serves as the CEO of the Early Learning Coalition. They partner with Humana because the organization addresses the needs of children through a holistic approach. They understand that a child’s health is equally as mental and intellectual as it is physical.

“Humana is a wonderful partner,” he said. “Some of the programs they offer and work with us are greatly appreciated obviously, and even just an event like this where people will take an hour or two to get here is a commitment to them.”

Even something as simple as reading children a story can help with their overall health and development. Not only does it teach them important literacy skills, but also imparts upon them important moral and social lessons like tolerance and self-acceptance in the case of “The Ugly Duckling.”

“Children at this particular age are very developmental in their learning, and those attributes that they learn from a story like this about the difference of individuals and the ability to recognize the beauty in all is something even adults in today’s world can take away from. It is a simple story we have all heard we all grown up to it, but when children had the ability to hear it and learn from it at an age like this, it makes a real impact and I think it is wonderful for our community.”

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