Encouraging Literacy with Children: Take Your Toddler to the Library

Experts agree that spending time with books is a key component of developing literacy. The more exposure children have to books and reading programs, the more quickly and easily they learn to read. By taking your toddler to the library on a regular basis, you can begin building the foundation of his or her reading education before they even begin attending school.

However, taking a small child to the library poses a special set of problems. Toddlers are often restless and noisy. They have a short attention span and may have problems behaving properly in a quiet setting. Here are some tips to help your library outings go more smoothly and produce the maximum educational benefit for your child.

  1. Meet the librarian. Before you take your child to the library, pay a solo visit to the children’s room. Introduce yourself to the librarian and explain that you would like to begin introducing your child to the library. He or she will be happy to help you select the most age-appropriate books and programs for your child. While you’re there, pick up a flyer detailing the times and themes of the regular story times.
  2. Prepare your child. Watch a video or read a book about going to the library. Talk about how the library is a quiet place and discuss proper library behavior with your child. Model “inside voices” and “outside voices” and talk about where each is appropriate. Explain how to handle books properly by not ripping pages, turning down corners or coloring in them.
  3. Make a trial visit. Before you start attending regular story time, pay a short visit to the children’s room with your child. Introduce your child to the librarian and let the librarian help your child select one or two books. You may want to ask the librarian to help you reinforce what you’ve already discussed with your child about behavior and proper care of books.
  4. Going to story time. If possible, choose a story time when your child will be rested and well fed. Hungry, tired children will not be able to concentrate. Most libraries require that you remain with your child at story time so make the most of it! Sit with your child and model the behavior you expect. If your child gets rambunctious, give one or two quiet warnings and then, if he or she does not settle down, leave and try again another day. It may take a few tries before your child understands what is expected.
  5. What about a library card? Most libraries will allow you to check out children’s materials on your card. This is a good strategy for toddlers and early school-age children, since it lets you keep track of what materials are checked out. By age 8 or 9, most children are ready for the responsibility of their own library card.
  6. Bonus tip for moms and dads! Your child is not likely to be patient while you browse the stacks and unruly behavior will be less tolerated in the adult section of the library. Luckily, many libraries have their catalogs available online. You can browse the online catalog and reserve the books you would like to check out. The librarian will have them ready for you when you check out your child’s books.

Make visiting the library at least a monthly event! Spending just an hour reading together or attending a story hour can have an incredible impact on your child’s early literacy and establish good reading habits for a lifetime.

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