"Catch 'Em in the Cradle," a popular program that originated in Florida, is one such effort, and libraries throughout the country are copying it. New parents receive library information kits through hospitals, adoption centers, and even prenatal classes. These kits generally contain information on how to stimulate a baby's language development through games, songs, and other activities. They also include lists of books for babies, books on parenting, and, of course, the address and hours of the local library. If there is no such program in your area and you'd like an information kit, ask the librarian at your local public library for help in putting one together.
Some libraries invite parents to bring in their children--no matter how young--for special programs, such as parent-child story hours in the evening. Here parents can learn fingerplays, songs, rhymes, and other activities they can use at home to entertain and stimulate their infants.
More and more libraries are instituting programs designed for toddlers 18 to 36 months old. Again, parents and children participate in activities that may include reading aloud, storytelling, fingerplays, rhymes, and songs. Because this age is a crucial time in the development of language skills, the value of these events lies in giving parents or caregivers the background on how to stimulate and encourage a child's development as well as entertaining the toddlers.
By the time children are 3 to 5 years of age, they usually enjoy participating in group activities. Consequently, many libraries sponsor programs for this age group, and parents generally do not need to stay with their kids throughout these events. Popular activities include reading aloud, storytelling, films, puppet shows, arts and crafts, and reading programs.
Frequently, reading programs offer some kind of recognition-- perhaps a certificate or book--to children who have read (or listened to) a specified number of books.
It is also worth noting that many libraries now offer special training programs for childcare workers and even invite large groups of children from daycare centers in for special programs, such as storytelling and read-alouds. If you have children in daycare, be sure that the caregivers contact the local public library to plan such activities. Exposure to books and to reading should be an integral part of daycare activities, and the public library is probably the best resource available for developing and enriching such programs.
The kinds of materials available for checkout for children ranging from infants up to age 5 vary among libraries. There will always be books, though--hardbacks, books with cardboard pages, picture books, and often cloth books, paperbacks, and magazines. The variety of subjects is tremendous, with everything from baby colors to bicycle basics, and from Bambi to keeping bugs in a jar. When your kids ask you endless questions about where they came from and why the sky is blue, chances are good there's a book at your library with answers they can understand. Or, if your children have homed in on favorite subjects--whether dinosaurs or donkeys--you'll find lots of fascinating books for them at the library.
Almost all libraries also offer recordings of children's stories and songs. Many also offer cassette tapes, compact discs, videotapes, book/cassette kits, and even puppets and educational toys. See what your local public library has to offer. You and your kids may be pleasantly surprised. And the only thing it will cost you is some time.
But the books are central. The ages 7 to 9 are an especially critical time for children. These are the years when they normally make the transition from just hearing and looking at picture books to reading independently for enjoyment and for schoolwork. How well they make this transition will determine much about the quality of their lives.
It is very important to find well-written books for your children at this stage. A story that will make them laugh or want to know what happens next will motivate them to read even though it's difficult. Your local public library is filled with such books, and the children's librarian is skilled at locating these treasures. A growing number of very informative nonfiction books are available as well. Want to know how to dig up dinosaur bones or all about the different people in the world? There are good books that will fascinate even beginning readers.
Hopefully that sense of wonder and curiosity behind little children's endless questions will continue as your kids grow older. Encourage them to look up answers to their questions in dictionaries, encyclopedias, atlases, and almanacs. These are resources you may want to add to your home library. Even if you do, remember that your local library will have a larger selection and more materials on specific subjects, and the librarian will be glad to help your kids learn to use these resources.
And don't overlook the school library as another valuable source for similar information and training. In fact, many schools and public libraries cosponsor children's programs. For example, a school may invite staff members from the local public library to give book talks or sign children up for library cards.
In elementary and junior high school, your children will tackle school assignments that require them to learn library skills. Teaching these skills is, in fact, part of the school curriculum. When you visit your children's school, stop by the school library, meet the librarian, and familiarize yourself with its many resources. In addition, if your kids' school sponsors books fairs, don't miss the opportunity to participate. You will probably be invited to help with the collecting, displaying, buying, and selling of children's books. This is an excellent way to learn more about children's literature.
Very often children in school will ask their parents for help with library assignments. And very often parents will find themselves gradually taking over and doing a report for their son or daughter. Obviously, such an exercise offers no long-term benefit to anyone. There are, however, things you can do to help your kids with library assignments:
One of the most important and frequently available library services for school-aged children is the summer reading program. Recent research has shown that kids who participate in library summer reading programs begin the school year with stronger reading skills than those who don't. So, encourage your kids to participate in such programs, particularly if they have any difficulty with reading. Low-level reading skills and illiteracy are being recognized more and more as major obstacles to success for many young adults. Obviously, the more help youngsters get early on, the better.
The increasing number of computer software programs available at public libraries are of particular interest to school children. Since kids generally are more interested and at ease with computers than their parents, computers are often found in the children's section as well as the adult department. Many public libraries offer training courses for children in using different software or educational programs. Be sure your kids--especially your teenagers--know what's available at your local public library.
There is no clearcut category of books for teenagers or young adults, although there are many novels written especially for teenagers, usually published in paperback. Some libraries have special sections for this age group; others include young adult materials with the adult collection. Teens generally make selections, especially for school assignments, from the adult collection. Thus, the range of choice is broad. In addition to books and magazines, many libraries offer compact discs as well as audio- and videocassettes free on loan.
A number of public libraries have developed special programs for teens to help them as they make the transition into adulthood. For instance, at some libraries there are teenage advisory boards to ensure that programs and materials for youth actually meet their needs. Some libraries publish book reviews written by their teenage patrons or help young people in the community to publish their own newsletters or magazines.
Many libraries enlist teenagers to help with programs for younger children, such as tutoring summer reading participants, doing puppet and crafts shows, storytell- ing, and theater productions. In addition, libraries frequently offer part-time job opportunities for teens, both volunteer and paid, to help with such tasks as checking in books and reshelving materials.
Finally, the local public library can help young people seeking information on very serious, personal choices. There is information on school and career planning, including choosing a college and financial aid. Many libraries distribute educational materials on drugs and alcohol for children and parents. Many others act as referral agencies to other community resources, including counseling centers and runaway services. And always there is an abundance of books.
When Your Child Visits the Library Alone Services for Special Children