As a parent, you are your child's first and most important teacher. Without a doubt, reading with children spells success for early literacy. Taking your children to the library often will help them develop an enjoyment and respect of books from an early age. As soon as you can, it is a good idea to include children — even toddlers — in weekly trips to the library. Here are some of the resources for young children you may be able to find at your public library.
Until recently, libraries offered little or nothing for children below the age of 3. But in the last few years, many libraries have introduced programs for infants.
"Catch 'Em in the Cradle," a popular program that originated in Florida, is one such effort, and libraries throughout the country are copying it. New parents receive library information kits through hospitals, adoption centers, and even prenatal classes. These kits generally contain information on how to stimulate a baby's language development through games, songs, and other activities. They also include lists of books for babies, books on parenting, and, of course, the address and hours of the local library.
If there is no such program in your area and you'd like an information kit, ask the librarian at your local public library for help in putting one together. Some libraries invite parents to bring in their children (no matter how young) for special programs, such as parent-child story hours in the evening. Here parents can learn finger-plays, songs, rhymes, and other activities they can use at home to entertain and stimulate their infants.
More and more libraries are instituting programs designed for toddlers 18 to 36 months old. Again, parents and children participate in activities that may include reading aloud, storytelling, finger-plays, rhymes, and songs. Because this age is a crucial time in the development of language skills, the value of these events lies in giving parents or caregivers the background on how to stimulate and encourage a child's development as well as entertaining the toddlers.
For Pre-School Children
By the time children are 3 to 5 years of age, they usually enjoy participating in group activities. Consequently, many libraries sponsor programs for this age group, and parents generally do not need to stay with their kids throughout these events. Popular activities include reading aloud, storytelling, films, puppet shows, arts and crafts, and reading programs.
Frequently, reading programs offer some kind of recognition (perhaps a certificate or book) to children who have read (or listened to) a specified number of books.
It is also worth noting that many libraries now offer special training programs for childcare workers and even invite large groups of children from daycare centers in for special programs, such as storytelling and read-alouds. If you have children in daycare, be sure that the caregivers contact the local public library to plan such activities. Exposure to books and to reading should be an integral part of daycare activities, and the public library is probably the best resource available for developing and enriching such programs.
The kinds of materials available for checkout for children ranging from infants up to age 5 vary among libraries. There will always be books, though — hardbacks, books with cardboard pages, picture books, and often cloth books, paperbacks, and magazines. The variety of subjects is tremendous, with everything from colors to bicycle basics, and from Dora the Explorer to keeping bugs in a jar. When your kids ask you endless questions about where they came from and why the sky is blue, chances are good there's a book at your library with answers they can understand. Or, if your children are focusing on favorite subjects — whether dinosaurs or donkeys — you'll find lots of fascinating books for them at the library.
Almost all libraries also offer recordings of children's stories and songs. Many also offer cassette tapes, compact discs, videotapes and DVDs, book/cassette kits, and even puppets and educational toys. See what your local public library has to offer. You and your kids may be pleasantly surprised — and the only thing it will cost you is some time.