If you need a game plan for kid distraction that doesn’t involve the playground, look no further than the local library. Yes, libraries still exist — there are 120,000 in the U.S. — and they have evolved dramatically over the past 20 years. They now feature reading skills and STEM programs, and the newer ones often have play areas on par with what you might find at a children’s museum. One thing that hasn’t changed is the cost for all this kid distraction: $FREE.99. To get the most out of your local branch, here are some tips from American Library Association President Elect Sari Feldman and manager of the New York Public Libraries’ Bronx Library Center, Michael Alvarez. And because there are literally hundreds of thousands of books to choose from Alvarez threw in a few recommendations for each age group that you can borrow (or just buy, if you hate free stuff).
“You used to bring your children to just hear a story, and it was the first place they really had to ‘behave.’ Now, we expect them to get up and dance.”
Age 0 – 2
Look for programs that combine storytelling, singing and playtime. The read-aloud time reinforces whatever you’re doing at home to familiarize your kid with books generally, but also the routine of settling in to interact with books. The singing promotes language skills, and the playtime socializes kids outside of whatever day care programs they might be in. All of this is aimed as much at you as your kid. Since 2004, the ALA’s “Every Child Ready To Read” program trains librarians to use their read-aloud sessions as an opportunity to teach parents how they can more effectively promote reading skills at home.
Book Recommendations from the NYPL For Ages 0 – 2:
Age 2 – 4
As kids get more mobile, they can take advantage of interactive areas that promote unstructured play time. At the library Feldman oversees outside of Cleveland, the areas are themed according to books or nursery rhymes and feature toys like sentence builders or large alphabet letters (surprisingly entertaining for little people!). Alvarez’s libraries introduce craft-focused programs to this age group, like puppet theaters where they create characters and perform scripts drawn up by the librarians. “You used to bring your children to just hear a story, and it was the first place they really had to ‘behave,'” says Feldman. “Now, we expect them to get up and dance.”
Book Recommendations from the NYPL For Ages 2 – 4:
Both Alvarez and Feldman have embraced technology, employing tablets and even robotics in their libraries. In Alvarez’s case, a STEM program designed to inspire early engineering concepts was aimed at 8-to-12-year olds, but had to be opened up to kids as young as 5 when they displayed a vaguely terrifying aptitude for mastering the tools. And while Feldman rigorously observes the American Academy Of Pediatrics recommendation against screen time for kids under 2, her kindergarten readiness program uses tablets to engage kids in more sophisticated ways than the physical play spaces can.
Book Recommendations from the NYPL For Age 4+:
Don’t Judge A Book By It’s Cover
Most of the programs above are available at libraries across the country, but if you find your local branch comes up short in any department, just talk to the librarian about it. “When checking out a library, you should make sure the collection and programs appeal to you, but the most important part is the customer service,” says Alvarez “Librarians provide a space where parents can come and engage their kids, but they should also be facilitators.”
If the last time you visited a library was to panic-cram for your senior exams, the National Center For Education Statistics can point you in the right direction.