Want to Raise a Reader? Libraries Can Make It Easier
“With great power comes great responsibility.” Uncle Ben may have been cautioning Peter Parker about the moral obligations that go along with stepping into the role of a web-slinging vigilante, but it’s easy to see how these words could also resonate with new and expecting parents.
It’s never too early to start reading to your baby! You are your child’s first and most important teacher. If you have fun and create positive associations around books, your child will likely feel the same way! Make your home a learning zone: Talk! Write! Read! Sing! Play! As a children’s librarian, I’ve been delivering messages like these for years at storytimes, family workshops, and community outreach events. But as a person preparing for her first child, I’ve started to hear these words in a new way.
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Is it empowering to think of all the ways we can help our little ones get a head start towards developing a love of learning from day one in the world? Yes! At the same time, is it also a little overwhelming, especially with all the other new information you take in about preparing, feeding, and generally caring for an infant? Again, yes!
When it comes to setting your child up for success as future readers, students, and people, the stakes feel incredibly high, so I empathize with anyone that feels a little anxious around “doing enough” to encourage pre-reading skills in an audience that’s still mostly communicating in gurgles.
What’s helped ease the pressure for me is pulling back from thinking about future implications — such as reading at grade level — and instead focusing on how the five early literacy practices (those aforementioned learning-rich activities: Talk, Sing, Read, Write, Play) can fit into an everyday routine. It’s also comforting to remember all the ways a local library can support new parents in our efforts.
A few particular tips I’d like to share with my fellow new and expecting parents:
Reading. If a book isn’t working, there’s no need to force it. Whether you’re dealing with a fussy baby or an inattentive toddler, read the room and either change up your approach or try again another time. More important than getting through a whole book in one session is making story time something you both enjoy. Going with the flow may also mean reading the same book over and over and over again. Although this may seem tedious at times to us as adults, this type of repetition has proven to be key to learning.
How can the library help? When your little one is ready for some variety in their literary diet, the library is here. Ask your local librarian for recommendations and take in a storytime for ideas on how to make reading engaging and fun for both of you. Can’t make it to a storytime? Ask your librarian if they would be willing to share an outline or have suggestions for storytime activities you can do at home.
Singing. Babies don’t care if you’re a great singer; they just love to hear your voice! So find or make up songs for bedtime, bathtime, and other daily activities. Songs slow down language and introduce new and uncommon vocabulary words. They’re also full of rhymes, which strengthens little ones’ ability to hear the smaller sounds that make up words. Pick the songs that make you smile and skip the ones you can’t stand.
How can the library help? Ask for books you can sing. A lot of nursery rhymes and childhood songs have been turned into sweet picture books. You can also explore kids’ music (or just music you want to share with your kids) through CDs and DVDs you can borrow and streaming music available on your public library’s website. Try out some of the recent kid-friendly albums from artists such as Jack Johnson, Lisa Loeb, and They Might Be Giants, and you may find music that fits your sensibilities and entertains your children at the same time.
Playing. Early on, babies will be just as interested in tasting the outsides of books as they are in hearing the words printed inside. Board books are designed for just that sort of playful exploration. By first grabbing and squeezing books and then, eventually, opening and closing covers or turning the pages, children are showing an interest in the way books work. Later on, this will evolve into knowing when a book is right-side up and recognizing that you read print from left to right.
How can the library help? Along with plenty of board books to feed your baby’s growing appetite, library’s children’s areas are designed to support learning through play with age-appropriate toys, dramatic play items like puppets and pretend food, building blocks, and puzzles. At some libraries, like my system and the Oakland Public Library, you may even be able to check out developmentally appropriate toys with your library card along with related books and suggested activities for guided play.
One more reason the library will be on my shortlist of places to visit early on in parenthood? The chance to connect with other parents and caregivers during playtimes, educational workshops, and other free programs. Not as tangible as the services and materials offered by libraries, the support and camaraderie of a community forged in the first years of parenthood is just as invaluable. Who else will appreciate the genius of a diaper changing song that keeps a baby calm? Or the nuances you discover after reading The Going to Bed Book for 133 consecutive nights in a row?
I’m looking forward to discovering these secrets, sharing the challenges, and gaining a new perspective by practicing what I preach about early literacy.