When I was a child, I waited for Thursdays with great anticipation because it was library night. I loved going with my mom and sister to our little library, located above the local police department. Climbing up that steep set of stairs, I felt like I was making my way to the gates of a castle filled with treasures. I was so in love with the place that I could have moved in there for the night. My mom wisely set aside a special day each week for this treat, which helped my sister and me plan ahead — and remember to return our books on time.
A trip to the library is a multisensory experience that engages all the best ways young children learn, from the solidity of a book in their hands and the visual stimulation of colorful illustrations to the smell of the pages and the excited, hushed voices of other readers. To a young child, the entire world is right there on those shelves, waiting to be discovered. She can take a trip to the bottom of the ocean on the Magic School Bus, or fly through the sky with a reference book about airplanes.
Keep these strategies in mind to unlock the hidden magic of the library for your child and nurture a lifelong love of reading:
- Set aside a special library time. A regularly scheduled "date" gives children something to look forward to and helps you remember to keep it in your busy schedule. Mark these days on the calendar with a favorite color or sticker. When your child plots how many days she has to wait for the trip, she uses important sequencing and early reading skills.
- Arrange your visits around story time, when a librarian (or visiting author) reads favorite children's books aloud. If you do this, select your books before the reading. The library is likely to be less crowded then, and the librarian will have more time to help if you need her.
- Meet the librarians. Even if your child loves the library, she may initially be a little afraid of the people "in charge" of all those books. That's why it's important to introduce your child to the librarians. If they have time, librarians often like to give children a tour and help them get their first library card. This will allow your child to foster a personal relationship, and the next time she arrives, she will see a familiar face.
- Teach your child how to care for books. Children should learn at an early age not to harm or disrespect books. Teach the proper way to handle library property — no holding books with dirty hands, bending the cover or pages, scribbling, or tearing. Young readers need to understand the importance of protecting books so that everyone who uses the public library can enjoy them, again and again.
Set limits and expectations. Be clear about your guidelines for library time. Allow a specific amount of time for your child to explore, and set a limit on the number of books she can check out. Knowing your expectations ahead of time along with gentle reminders ("five minutes until we check out books") gives a budding book lover a comfortable structure to work within. You can point to the clock and draw on a piece of paper what the clock will look like when time is up. Or, set the alarm on your watch so that it goes off a few minutes beforehand.
Don't worry too much about explaining rules, such as speaking quietly, at this point. Young children pick up the appropriate behavior very quickly, just by observing you.
- Share your child's passions. Join in her excitement at discovering a book she likes, even if you don't think it's a great "take-home" book. Ask her what she finds interesting about it. Notice something about it to celebrate, whether it's the colors on the cover or the size of the book. Put the book in your pile, and then point out other books. When you get to the weeding-out process of choosing the three to take home, your child can finalize her choices.
- Snuggle up and read at the library. Sharing a book in the library is a special occasion for children because they get to read in a novel place surrounded by books! Find a cozy corner, or plop on the floor. This "pre-take-home" time also helps you and your child decide if a story is something she'll want to read again and again.
- Don't forget a book for you. Borrow a book you're eager to read — this models a love of reading that will stay with your child her whole life. Since it's sometimes difficult to hunt down books, call ahead and see if the librarian can set aside a special book for you. That way, you can focus on your child while you're there, and she can really breathe in the beauty and peace — and endless possibilities — of library time.