Beyond Books: Library Services for Children
While there is much variety in local library programs throughout the country, there are several elements common to most children's services, as well as some general trends. This article describes services for preschool and school-aged children that can be found at many public libraries.
- Programs for infants
Until recently, libraries offered little or nothing for children below the age of three. 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.
- Parent-child story hours
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 fingerplays, songs, rhymes, and other activities they can use at home to entertain and stimulate their infants.
- Toddler programs
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, fingerplays, 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.
- Group activities
By the time children are three to five 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.
- Library 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.
- Training for child care workers
It is also worth noting that many libraries now offer special training programs for child care workers and even invite large groups of children from day care centers in for special programs, such as storytelling and read-alouds. 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.
- Books and other materials
The kinds of materials available for checkout for children ranging from infants up to age five 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 books on everything from colors to bicycle basics, and from Bambi 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 have homed in on favorite subjects?whether dinosaurs or donkey?you'll find lots of fascinating books for them at the library.
- Audiovisual materials
Almost all libraries also offer recordings of children's stories and songs. Many also offer cassette tapes, compact discs, videotapes, 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.
For School-Aged Children
- Information for schoolwork
Libraries take on another important dimension for children in school. In addition to recreation, the library is a place to find information, usually for help with schoolwork. This expanded focus in no way diminishes the library's importance as a source of pleasure. Most libraries offer a variety of programs for children to fill that bill.
- Read-aloud programs
For elementary school children, there are variations of the read-alouds and storytelling hours. These often include discussions and presentations by the children themselves, as well as summer reading programs.
- Young adult programs
For middle and junior high school kids, there may also be book talks, summer reading programs, creative writing seminars, drama groups, and poetry readings.
- Books and other materials
But the books are central. The ages seven to nine are an especially critical time for children. These are the years when they normally make the transition from just hearing and looking at picture books to reading independently for enjoyment and for schoolwork. How well they make this transition will determine much about the quality of their lives.
It is very important to find well-written books for your children at this stage. A story that will make them laugh or want to know what happens next will motivate them to read even though it's difficult. Your local public library is filled with such books, and the children's librarian is skilled at locating these treasures.
A growing number of very informative nonfiction books are available as well. Want to know how to dig up dinosaur bones or all about the different people in the world? There are good books that will fascinate even beginning readers.
- Reference books
Hopefully that sense of wonder and curiosity behind children's endless questions will continue as your kids grow older. Encourage them to look up answers to their questions in dictionaries, encyclopedias, atlases, and almanacs.