I learned to print my name almost before I could read it -- for the sole purpose of getting my own library card. I was so young I had to stand on tiptoe to see over the check-out desk and hand the librarian my application. When the librarian, in turn, handed me a library card with my own name typed on it -- not my mother's -- I was ecstatic. I literally wore out the card in a few months, off and running toward becoming a lifelong reader.
Recognizing the role the library played in my becoming a book lover (and a career children's editor), I herded my kids into the library as soon as they could toddle. Libraries had changed a lot, of course, but -- just as I did -- my kids quickly felt at home there. The children's librarian came to know them, helped them select books, and, even better, encouraged them to also choose their own books. Libraries have played such an essential role in our family that I'm almost gobsmacked when I encounter families who don't share my enthusiasm. Some say that the children's rooms of libraries are an anachronism in a world of mobile screens with books on demand. But I say that while childhood has changed quite a bit, children have not.
Here are five good reasons to take your children to the library today:
- Regular library visits inevitably lead to more reading.
And reading, as it turns out, is brain food!
Research shows that reading actually aids in brain development, especially in your child's first five years of life. When kids are read to, their brain cells are literally turned on, and existing links among brain cells are strengthened and new cell links are formed.
Reading is also one of the best activities to provide the foundational language and literacy skills your child needs to succeed. And let's not forget how reading aloud connects us -- reader and listener -- in a very intimate way. When we read to aloud to kids, we send them this message: You are important. This time is for you.
- When you visit the library, you can expose your children to more books and magazines than you can afford to buy.
Sure, you can take your kids to the children's section of a nearby bookstore -- and you should! But if you're like most of us, you're on a budget and you have to cap their spend. But at the library, you can haul out as much as you can carry, turn your books back in as soon as they're read, and take home a whole new pile.
Further, the "casual discovery" nature of a library -- browsing the stacks without pressure to buy -- allows kids to be serendipitous. There's no predicting what might catch their fancy, but, whatever it is, they can "test drive" it at low risk.
- Your local children's librarian can recommend books that you may not know of or think to suggest, broadening their tastes and expanding their minds and vocabularies.
One of my young readers was a rough-and-tumble, car-obsessed little boy. Our home library was full of books about vehicles that I knew he'd like. But it was our children's librarian who introduced him to Ruth Krauss's classic picture book Big and Little (later reissued as And I Love You). I would never have guessed that he'd come to love this poetic book so tenderly, committing it to memory and naming his favorite stuffed black bear "Big Dark Street" after the book's comforting conclusion, "Big dark streets love little street lamps."
- Library time is active, not passive.
Maybe in your mind the library is an eerily quiet place with lots of shushing. But today's youngest library patrons engage -- with books and magazines, with librarians, and with other kids. Most libraries offer regular children's programs that make stories come to life. (Think puppets, costumes, and animated storytellers.) And often this magic happens in cozy corners where kids flop down on big pillows and bean-bag chairs.
- Owning a library card teaches kids responsibility. As card-carrying library patrons, young kids learn about treating with care things that belong to others. When a kid checks out books in his own name, he feels trustworthy. He feels responsible. He feels more like a member of his community. A child's first library card is an early rite of passage.
So get your child a library card -- and underscore its importance. Take a photo of the moment. Go out for ice cream to celebrate.
Even better, go home and open a book.