Your Local Library Is A Goldmine of Resources for Your Toddler and Infant
My toddler and I traveled recently to a place that many parents do not realize can pay huge dividends in the early educational development of their little ones. We drove into the parking lot, and I got her out of her car seat. At 20 months, she recognized the brick building and squealed, “Books. I want books.”
We went in the front door, and to our left were toddler-sized tables covered with unique puzzles and games. On every trip, she can access educational computer games, videos, and picture books. The beauty of this place? It is free! I can visit as many times as I want, and my toddler can explore and learn in countless ways. What gold mine have we found? Our hometown library.
Every Child Is Ready to Read
In the beginning, I feared my baby would distract others in the library if she cried. I was resolute in my desire to take her to the library. However, studies indicate that the earlier you begin sharing books with your baby, the better they perform in school. Furthermore, the research points to absolute links among babies who are exposed to reading, singing and talking and improved vocabulary development and enhanced parental bonding experiences.
These studies commissioned by officials with the American Library Association and its public library division were instrumental in persuading librarians nationwide to implement specialized programs, says Ellen Fader, youth services coordinator and LIBROS manager for the Multnomah County Library based in Oregon.
Nationally, early childhood development programs in libraries run the gamut from Books for Babies storytime sessions to Born to Read* emergent literacy programs, says Fader, who also serves as a member of the Public Library Association’s Early Literacy Initiative Task Force.
In Oregon, the Book Babies sessions provide parents essential rhymes and songs that every child needs to hear to develop a strong sense of language, Fader says. Through the program, parents also have opportunities to socialize.
Aimed at expectant or new parents, the library’s Born to Reading coordinator visits prenatal and parent education classes to encourage new parents to read to their children. Parents watch the Born to Succeed video or its Spanish version, La Llave del Exito. Produced by Multnomah County Library’s Early Childhood Resources, the video features young parents explaining why they read to their children.
For parents of older toddlers, the library offers its Mother Goose series. This four-week program trains providers and parents to use quality children’s picture books to encourage children to explore the world of science around them. Library officials give each participating parent a canvas bag with nine children’s picture books, a science kit, and a family activity guide containing the experiments done in class.
Literacy Skills for Toddlers and Infants
Other libraries also offer literacy programs for families. The county library system in Fort Wayne, Ind., for example, offers specialized storytimes for babies and their parents, says Nancy Magi, the youth services coordinator. “We don’t just show parents how to encourage their children’s early literacy development,” she says. “We also explain to them why we are doing what we are doing, using the language of early literacy research.”
Magi adds that other literacy programs in Fort Wayne libraries include storytime sessions for parents with toddlers and an early childhood development poster display program at each branch. The posters provide information to parents on six critical emergent literacy skills for infants and toddlers. Magi outlines these skills as follows:
1. Vocabulary – Knowing the names of things.
2. Print Motivation – A child’s interest in and enjoyment of books.
3. Phonological Sensitivity – The ability to hear and manipulate the more minor sounds in words.
4. Print Awareness – Learning that writing in English follows basic rules, such as print flows from top to bottom and left to right; knowing that the pattern on the page is what someone who knows how to read is reading.
5. Letter Knowledge – Learning that letters are different from each other, each letter has a name, and specific sounds go with particular notes.
6. Narrative Skills – Being able to understand and tell stories and being able to describe things.
The county library systems in Indiana and Oregon are just two of 14 Public Library Association demonstration sites for its Every Child Ready to Read @ Your Library program. Other library systems participating include those in Baltimore County, Md.; the District of Columbia in Washington, D.C.; Hennepin County, Minn.; King County, Wash.; and the Metropolitan Library System in Oklahoma City, Okla. You can check out the PLA Web site for more information or a complete list of libraries participating in the program.
Parents Getting Involved
As word spreads of the initiative, more librarians nationwide are also starting their programs. “Visit almost any public library in this country, and you will see mothers and their very young children enjoying the facilities,” says Fader, adding mothers should call their local library to see what type of resources are available. “What is today’s public library? A clean, modern building with special spaces for young children filled with bright picture books, musical recordings, and educational toys. In short, it is the place for babies and their caring adult.”
Mary Elizabeth Land, the director of my hometown library in Abbeville County, S.C., agrees, adding that the old stereotype of the shushing librarian is long dead at most libraries. “Libraries are becoming more and more like community centers,” she says. “Children are welcomed into the facilities warmly, and a lot of parents are surprised at how family-friendly libraries have become.”
It is not unusual to see a child sitting on the floor working on a or to see parents playing board games with kids. Sometimes you will also find toddlers laughing as they play computer games designed just for them. These software programs are geared toward helping children with computer skills and their literacy skills as well, Land says.
She adds that the impact of the library goes far beyond just the excellent programming. “Many libraries, Abbeville included, offer fabulous resources, which parents can check out – from videos on making sure your home is safe for children to books filled with ideas on ways to ensure that playtime is also educational for children,” she says.
In the infrequent instance that a local library does not have programming for families with infants and toddlers, mothers can get involved to encourage the formation of such programs, Magi says. “Talk to your librarian,” says Magi. “Get other parents to do the same. Librarians are very responsive to patrons’ needs and want. If you do a little work by talking to other parents, I’m sure your librarian will respond.”