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Big Ways Libraries Can Fill Sequestration Gaps in Early Education

This post is a collaborative work between Cen Campbell and Karen Nemeth at Language Castle.

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.

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

  6. 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:

Darien Library Early Literacy

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.

Multnomah County Library System

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.

Pierce County Library

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.

San Francisco Public Library

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.

Skokie Public Library

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 role 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!



eTots: A Public Library iPad Program for Preschoolers (from SLJ)

Cindy Wall, the Head of Children’s Services at the Southington Library & Museum in Southington, CT,  contributed the following post to School Library Journal’s Touch and Go blog in 2012. It’s full of great information and covers the process of developing the program. Cindy will be joining us at Little eLit and the growing ranks of children’s librarians who are developing best practices and professional development materials for using apps and eBooks with kids in libraries.

eTots 62 eTots: A Public Library iPad Program for Preschoolers

eTots: A Public Library iPad Program for Preschoolers

It’s my supervisor’s fault. Really. She purchased an iPad, downloaded The Fantastic Flying Books of Morris Lessmore, and brought the tablet to work. When I saw those Flying Books swirling around the screen, ideas began twirling around my mind. If I was amazed—and delighted—by the app’s interactivity, how would children react?

I owned an iPhone and had purchased apps, but I’d never considered designing a program around this software until I viewed an app on the iPad. Now that was totally different experience. Tapping money designated for “something special” and funds from a technology endowment, I purchased a number of iPads. My first program incorporating tablets was a story time for one- and two-year-olds and their caregivers. I called it eBabies.

That pilot class taught me a few things; most importantly, that one-year-olds lacked the attention span for this type of program. I also learned that the silly, high-energy songs I love to incorporate in a traditional story time setting did not set the right tone for an iPad session.

Back to the drawing board. I changed the name of the program to eTots and registered two- and three-year-olds and their caregivers. Out came carpet squares (each child had one to sit on during the program) and in went songs that featured clapping, knee slapping, toe tapping, but not parading or jumping.

When eTots begins, the 12 pairs of children and caregivers choose a carpet square to sit on. Next to each spot is a sheet containing the lyrics for the songs we’ll be singing. The program opens with a welcome tune, sung to each child as he or she receives a nametag. Then, as a group, we sing a few songs that emphasize motion, but won’t get the children too rambunctious.

As I hand out the iPads, we recite an iPad poem based on the nursery rhyme “One, Two Buckle My Shoe.” As we read the book app together, I alert everyone to any interactivity on the screen, to make sure no one misses these features. When the reading is finished, we open another app–generally an educational or entertaining title, and I offer the adults a few pointers on using it. After that everyone is free to explore whatever they like. (I leave the apps from previous programs on the iPads.)

When the children begin to look restless, we pause to sing the goodbye song. Some people will leave then, while others remain to continue exploring on the iPad. At this point, I walk around the circle making sure everyone knows how to work the apps they’re interested in. Favorite book apps from this first year of programming have been Pat the BunnyMoo, Baa, La, La, La, and Another Monster at the End of This Book. Popular (nonbook) apps have been Easy-Bake Treats (the free, hands-down favorite of both girls and boys), Fish School, and My First Songs.

eTots is offered monthly and there’s a waiting list to enroll. Meanwhile, I’m working on a number of other ideas for future iPad programs. A colleague and I are planning a Titanic Adventure for tweens and I’ll be using an app to help children ages six to eight write and illustrate their own books. I see the possibilities and opportunities for creative programming with iPads as endless.

Cindy Wall
Head of Children’s Services
Southington Library & Museum