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Staff Workshop/Teacher's Handout: The Importance of the Classroom Library

A large, varied, and often-refreshed collection of books in the classroom is a vital ingredient in developing early literacy. 

By Susan B. Neuman PhD
  • Grades: Early Childhood, Infant, PreK–K, 1–2

Books Throughout the Room

  • Do not expect to have every book displayed and available all of the time.
  • Place books in other centers throughout the room.
  • Books to read the "baby" to sleep, or about food for referring to when "cooking," can be placed in the housekeeping area.
  • A plastic crate of books about building could be placed near the block building area.
  • Books about science are a part of the science area.
  • Number books are useful when placed in the manipulative area to supplement the shells, acorns, or nuts and bolts children count, weigh, or measure.
  • Take a crate of books and a soft rug outside for reading under a shade tree.   

Characteristics of a Literacy - Building Classroom Library

  • At least seven books per child
  • Wide range of levels of difficulty
  • Permanent "core" collection and regularly replenished "revolving" collection
  • Variety of genres
  • New books with appealing covers
  • Attractive, inviting setting

Library Centers for Children Just Learning English

To make sure your library center is attractive to children just learning English, include:

  • books in children's home languages as well as in English
  • picture dictionaries in English and the children's home languages
  • characters that reflect children's ethnic and racial heritages
  • concept books with pictured objects clearly labeled 
  • folk tales and myths from children's cultures
  • picture books about children's home countries as well as those about current homes and environments
  • repetitive rhyming books familiar to children so they can fill in the rhyme as they read the book
  • puppets to talk and read to   

A large, varied, and often-refreshed collection of books in the classroom is a vital ingredient in enhancing children's developing literacy skills and motivating them to learn to read. Recent studies on literacy confirm what teachers have known for years: the more contact children have with books, the better readers they will become. Teachers can promote children's literacy learning and interest in reading by reading to children daily and by having them interact with books through the use of the library area.

Quality library centers are not simply collections of children's trade books, located in one area of the room. There are certain characteristics and design features that strongly influence whether or not library centers may be used to their full potential to improve children's reading performance.

In order to attract and hold children's interests, the library center must be stocked with many good books. The International Reading Association recommends that each room start with at least seven books per child and purchase two additional new books per child each year.

It is recommended that books be divided into a "core" collection and a "revolving collection." Just like a public library, the core collection is the permanent collection, available throughout the year. The revolving collection, on the other hand, changes every few weeks, based on the themes children are engaged in, children's current interests, and special holidays throughout the year.

Children also need to be exposed to a range of language, topics, genres, and perspectives. They need books that reflect the diverse, multicultural nature of our society, books where they can learn about themselves and ethers. The literature selection should include:

  • Traditional stories
  • Familiar stories that are found in every culture
  • Fantasy
  • Stories that contain characters who may have superhuman powers that spark children's imaginations
  • Stories with characters, settings, and events that could plausibly happen in true life

To spark children's interest and enthusiasm about reading, books must catch children's attention, captivate their imaginations, and make them want to return to books again and again. Only high-quality books will achieve these goals. Rather than some old tattered books from garage sales, books need to look physically attractive, with fresh covers and interesting, bright illustrations. If possible, brand new books should be added to replenish the library center on a regular basis.

Children are more likely to spend time in the library center and actively engage in books when the center, along with the books placed in the center, is physically attractive.

Partitions, bookshelves or other barriers on at least two sides help to set the library area apart from the rest of the room, giving children a sense of privacy and providing a quiet, cozy setting for reading. Try to provide:

  • Ample space (There should be room to accommodate about four or five children at a time.)
  • Comfortable furnishings (Pillows, carpeting, beanbag chairs, plants, and flowers all help to create a comfortable atmosphere for reading.)
  • Open-faced bookshelves (Open-faced bookshelves display the covers of the books and naturally attract children to the library.)
  • Displays and props (Posters, listening jacks, puppets, and flannel boards encourage children to use the library in many different ways, for quiet reflection, reenactments of stories, and conveying messages to one another.)

Children need time to interact with books every day. In early childhood programs, there should be a time when all children are expected to be engaged with books in whatever manner is most comfortable to them, whether browsing through books, looking at pictures, or "reading" the books alone or with other children.

Teachers highlight books during story time. Reading the same books three times prior to placing them in the library area helps children make selections when in the library center.

To foster a love of books, children need opportunities to talk about them. Studies suggest that informal conversations about books, such as book talks or book chats, enhance children's motivation to read. Instead of "Show and Tell," you can ask children to talk about an interesting event or fact in a book someone read to them. Or they might show pictures in a book that were appealing to them. Some children may be able to tell the entire story to the class. In the course of retelling, children develop new knowledge and understandings as well as gain in comprehension.

Research confirms what has often been written. Children. learn to read by reading. Teachers can promote children's involvement with books by reading to them daily and by: having them interact with books through the extensive use of classroom libraries. With hundreds of good books to read and time to read them, children will get on the right road to reading achievement.

Obtaining Books How Do I Get Seven Books Per Child?

Contact your local children's librarian. Libraries are willing to provide child care and other preschool centers with adequate supplies of children's books.  

Affordable books for a library center can be obtained by calling 800-SCHOLASTIC. Child care providers and other teachers can order a customized list of books for their group. E-mail your thematic, genre, curriculum, or other needs to Julie Kreiss at paperbacks@Scholastic.com. Scholastic will send you a personalized list free and offer books at up to 40% off.

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