Written by Jamie Martin, editor of Simple Homeschool and blogger at Steady Mom
Libraries have always been magical places in my mind. While I didn’t grow up in a home where I was read to regularly, my mom took me to the library every other Monday. Decades later, I still look back on those Mondays as some of my most special memories. Those trips helped to shape me into the book lover I remain today.
Because of these positive memories, I always assumed that regular library trips would be a part of our family’s homeschooling life, too.
When my three kids were younger (ages 4, 3, and 2), our early ventures into libraries resembled herding cattle. There was that one disastrous attempt at storytime (How did all those other parents get their toddlers to sit on the cloth squares?!), but eventually we settled into a routine that worked for all of us.
I found a local library that catered to young kids–with train tables, puzzles, and toys–as well as picture books. The kids could play, bring a book over, read it with me, and toddle away again. And though I had sworn off storytime and structured events, this rhythm saw us happily through a few years. We grew to love our librarians and I like to think they felt the same way about us.
Then we moved. And our library routine changed overnight.
Soon after the dust settled from our unpacked boxes, I loaded everyone up in the van and drove to explore our new local library. I had never before realized how much the physical layout of the previous library ensured our success there.
This library had books for younger children located close to chapter books for older children. Consequently, as I tried to help one child choose a book, another would run up to me with an inappropriate title they had found on a nearby shelf. My youngest seemed to make a game of locating the scariest book covers, and then got upset when I told him we wouldn’t be able to check those out.
In short, our excursion was kind of stressful for this mama. We arrived home with the most random assortment of books on the planet, half-heartedly thrown in my bag just so we could check out without making a scene. I’m not a quitter, though, so we tried a few times. Each attempt ended the same way. Eventually I stumbled upon a solution:
I stopped taking my children to the library.
Before you string me up for homeschooling heresy, let me explain how we use the library now.
1. I go alone.
Photo by Jamiesrabbits
Every other week I venture out in the evenings after dinner, and swing by the library. I keep an ongoing list during that period of any topic that has engaged the kids’ attention or interest. With my list in hand, I look up keywords on the library’s computer and gather specific books, then do a lot of browsing. I look for inspiration, for twaddle-free titles, for high quality.
When I come home again, I’m a hero. Trishna, Jonathan, and Elijah greet the new books like it’s Christmas. There’s no sadness about what was left behind at the library–the titles I didn’t bring home. Or, say, the lack of scary book covers.
There’s only joy about what’s there.
2. We attend special programs.
While our library trips have not worked out as I initially imagined, one of the strengths of our new library are its special programs. I’ve taken the kids to art classes, puppet shows, and plays.
My children are now the perfect age for this–at 9, 8, and 7 (no more cloth squares to sit on!). Many of the library’s programs are for the 6-9 age range.
3. The next phase in my library plan: One-on-one research.
I want my children to figure out how to use a library, to get comfortable with Dewey decimal and all that. The next phase in my library plan involves taking the kids one-on-one to find books on a particular subject or interest.
I find the library much easier to use when going for a specific purpose than a browsing free-for-all. (There’s just too much that isn’t suitable–twaddle on the shelves right next to amazing classics, you know?)
I look forward to watching my kids develop a lifelong love for and relationship with the library, but our experience has taken a slightly different turn. For now I’ll keep up the job I perform in so many areas: food, books, media, music, entertainment, life–letting what is great into our home while filtering the negative out.
More thoughts about libraries:
- Why we won’t be signing up for the library’s summer reading program
- How to use the library in your homeschool
Has your use of the library evolved over time? How do you use the library in your homeschool?