Cen Campbell and Karen Nemeth
Times are tough for preschools and home visiting programs right now. This article in the Arkansas Times tells the real story about the devastating effects of sequestration budget cuts on early childhood education programs across the country. As we read about the millions of dollars, we were really moved by the story of one little girl, Aaliyah. She just couldn’t understand why her home visitor wouldn’t be coming any more and her mom was worried about Aaliyah losing ground after learning so much in her early years. We know Aaliyah is growing and learning fast. She doesn’t have time to wait for the government to fix the budget. How can we help her and the thousands of children in danger of being left behind?
Get those children to the library!
Here are a few big ways that libraries can fill the early learning gap left by slashed budgets.
Not only do the libraries have books – they have people who know how to use them! Children’s librarians have training and experience in supporting early literacy development. Free story hours and other literacy activities are a must for young children who can’t get to preschool.
Books for parents as teachers are packed with great activities and learning ideas parents can try at home! Librarians can show parents some books with art ideas or cooking projects or learning activities that can be enjoyed at home to keep the learning going.
Even in tough times, there are computers and learning games at the public library. Check for a subscription to the Tumblebooks learning and literacy activities available in several languages on many library websites.
Learning materials and toys may also be available. Families can find puppets, puzzles, and other toys that go with great children’s books to expand the learning experience.
Technology is a growing component of many library offerings. Did you know you can check out videos or DVDs of educational programs? Or CDs with songs to help your child learn letters or concepts or new languages? Some libraries are even lending tablet devices loaded with story ebooks and other high quality literacy apps.
And…. If preschool programs are experiencing cuts, a partnership with their local library may save them enough money to keep a few more slots open for children who need them the most.
Public libraries exist to serve the needs of their communities; if there are services or resources that you need, approach your local library and tell them what would help you! Whether you are a parent, an educator, or you work with any other capacity with families and their children, your local children’s librarian will either have resources to help you, or they will find out where else in the community those resources are available. Attend already existing programs (like storytimes, book clubs or craft programs) but also call, check out the website, or visit the library to find out about other programs, services or partnerships that you might NOT expect!
Here are just a few examples of innovative programs happening at some local public libraries:
The Darien Library has been a leader in the area of new literacies through the development of their circulating Early Literacy iPad Kits, but they also have a wide variety of early literacy programs and resources and current and relevant information for parents.
The Multnomah County Library System has comprehensive online and in-house resources for early literacy development, including information on literacy development for children age 0-6 (many librarians often refer to these resources because they’re so good!), parent programs, reading lists and ongoing programming.
The Pierce County Library System is a 2013 IMLS National Award Winner that offers comprehensive services to families and childcare providers. Not only do they provide access to traditional literacy tools, services and programs, they also offer book club kits, training for early childhood educators, museum passes, oral health resources, newsletters and community-building programming.
The San Francisco Public Library not only offers the traditional library services you’d expect from a large metropolitan library system, but they also have programs like the free summer lunch program, resources for free family events, free passes to local educational spaces and a host of other collaborative projects and early literacy resources.
The Skokie Public Library offers a wide variety of family programs and services including movie nights, game and craft programs, reading programs at various times of the year, and they have some really creative librarians who incorporate mobile media and maker movement into their library offerings.
For more information on this topic, see this recent report from the Institute of Museum and Library Services on How Museums and Libraries Create Lifelong Learners. Lisa Guernsey has also written about the changing roles of libraries in challenging times at her website and on blogs.
Cen, the children’s librarian and Karen, the early childhood education expert, are joining forces here to unleash the power of libraries everywhere!
Librarians: Activate your outreach powers and find out where sequestration is hurting your community. When you find the gaps, we just know you’ll think of ways to fill them!
Early childhood programs: Activate your social powers and make friends with your local librarians. If you have to turn families away – don’t let them leave your building or your website without a clear recommendation that they need to check out the library.
But hurry! Those children can’t wait!