The idea of making the library a meaningful place with young children in tow is inspiring…in theory.
In practice, it can be overwhelming to make the library experience meaningful. In my world, both of my boys go straight for the toys, in opposite directions. One loves the train table and the other likes to dump all of the puzzle pieces. Perhaps I need to re-tool my children’s listening strategies? We have some ideas to help you make the library a meaningful learning environment.
Set up a Library at Home
Encourage your children to put their books on a shelf so they can find them later. Start simple, but with time give your children an opportunity to make sense of book categories. Let them “organize” however they want on the shelves. Explain this is what libraries do, too.
Give your child an agenda for the trip to the library
Using words like “first, then and lastly” help us explain what we will do at the library. Typically I say, “First we will pick out books, then we will read a story, lastly you can play with the puzzles.” My son sometimes needs this repeated. A lot. This guidance helps remind him why we came to the library.
Find Materials from Home
Finding books at the library with children can be challenging. Many libraries have their catalogues available on the web. Take advantage of this and write titles, authors and locations. Often a librarian can help find the materials and sometimes you can even put the books on hold from home.
Encourage Your Child to Pick Out Books
Be prepared for some strange books, but celebrate that they picked the book every time you read it! Some libraries have their “favorite/most popular authors” pulled aside to guide your child’s choices.
Find a Cozy Spot and Read
It goes without saying that taking advantage of a (semi-)quiet location filled with books and cozy child-sized furniture to read a story is an important way to make positive connections to the library. If your child is easily distracted, pick shorter, high-interest stories and save the longer ones for home. Alternatively, if your child wants to read a lot of stories and you need to move on to the next activity of the day, look at the books and make a prediction based on pictures. Save reading for home when you can devote more time. See if your predictions come true.
Get Your Child a Library Card
My mother-in-law allowed her children to get library cards once they could sign their own names (or some part thereof). She felt it was a great opportunity to experience autonomy. This was not only an incentive to check out lots of books, but also an incentive to write their names. Allow your child to be responsible (age-appropriately) for remembering to bring the card and using it to check out books.
After reading a favorite story, make simple connections with the text. Paint a picture, find a flower from the book, see an animal from a book at the zoo, pretend to be a character, and say, “Oh this is just like…” This only deepens the memories, learning and positive experiences associated with the library.
Introduce library vocabulary into your every day words. Using words like shelf, title, author, illustrator and even genres like biography, fiction and non-fiction will help your child find favorite books.
Find a Favorite Activity
While I do not encourage my children to play with toys the whole time we are at the library, allowing them a little playtime creates a positive association between the child and going to the library. You want your child there, surrounded by books. Encourage him/her to find ways to connect their play to literature.
Go to Library Programs
Most libraries have age-appropriate story times. These not only get children excited about books, they also help you find new strategies to encourage early literacy at home. Many story times involve age-appropriate rhyming, songs, and games. Plus, this gives your child social exposure and a chance to process group behaviors.
Build Another Friend’s Library
Give your children the opportunity to share their favorite stories with friends. Have a play date at the library. Have your child give favorite books as gifts, perhaps even favorites you have discovered at the library.
Make it Regular
Pick a day and time each week that works well for your family. This helps us to get the kids more excited as we proclaim “It is library day!” It also helps us keep track of return days a little more easily.
With so many free and exciting learning opportunities, the library can easily become a meaningful place for your preschooler. Enjoy the wonder!
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