SCHWEINFURT, Germany -- Starting kindergarten might be a monumental day in any child's life, but every year, 35 percent of American children begin school without the language skills they need to learn to read, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) Web site.

The significance of reading to children at a young age is paramount to the success of any child in school, AAP emphasizes, and what parents do pre-kindergarten is crucial. To stress the importance of reading aloud to children, the Ledward Library offers a children's story hour every Wednesday.

"One of the things we noticed ... is that literacy is so important. We hope that starting this young, we can help the kids be more literate, because it affects every corner of their lives," said volunteer storyteller Alison Koralewski.

Alison and her husband, David, were sent by their stateside church to Schweinfurt and took on volunteering at the library for the story hour each week. Their backgrounds include work as librarians.

"We're just interested in seeing that the kids have a good time and learn to appreciate the books," David said.

"Stories originally come from inside of people," he said, and they help kids understand that as well.

Picking up a few story books, David sat in the kids' corner at the library, and the children gathered around to listen, and even participate at times, during the storytelling. Once the stories were finished, the kids moved to the craft table to use their artistic side.

With 18 grandchildren back in the U.S., they see themselves as "surrogate grandma and grandpa." Their audience ranges between 18 months to 5 years old with as many as eight kids some days. Stories and crafts are a mixture of levels to appeal to all of the ages.

The weekly story hour is only a sampling of some of the things that parents can do at home with their children to promote childhood development and enhance family bonds before beginning formal education in a school setting.

"It is important to read out loud. (The children) will automatically connect the words they hear with the pictures they see. Their vocabulary and their future reading skills will easily develop," said librarian Christine Willis.

"I was very grateful that (the Koralewskis) arrived in Schweinfurt," Willis said.

"They immediately jumped in and the program continued. There was almost no interruption in service," with the weekly story hour, she said.