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Hey, Check This Out! 7 Tips for Exploring the Library with Little People

Kid in a library

Some kids LOVE the library. Stacks of books, cozy nooks, infinite possibilities and stories to explore…their imaginations seem to light up. Other children feel a little stifled in an atmosphere that requires quiet… You, too, may be full of questions about how to introduce children to books and the library. Where should you start exactly? How do you find books for kids who are just learning their letters? How do you get kids to read something other than Strawberry Shortcake?

Luckily, most libraries have built-in experts (a.k.a. librarians) who know how to help you get the most out of one of the very best (and totally free!) community resources available.

So we tapped librarian, tutor, and teacher Katrina Clift—who’s been working with early readers for 30 years in St. Helens, Oregon—to share her ideas for getting kids and families jazzed about the world of books.

Take a look, check out a book, and fall in love with the local library in your life!

1. Let your child lead the library exploration.

“Follow your child around the library, see what catches her eye, and then lead her in deeper,” suggests Clift. That way, the trip becomes about her experience, her imagination, and her interests—making it more likely that she’ll want to return. Go ahead and plop down next to a stack of books about space, flowers, or Peanuts and allow her to explore.

2. Make the library a resource for whatever sparks your curiosity.

Kids are full of questions: “How far away is the moon? Can we make snickerdoodles? What’s a lemur?” When your child becomes curious about anything at all, you know where to head: the library! Let the librarian show her books that will help deepen her curiosity about whatever she’s wondering about, and when you get home, let her curl up in your lap to read them together. If she loses interest, no problem—just return the book!

3. Teach your child the lay of the land.

Helping your child learn landmarks in your library can increase his confidence in choosing books that interest him, so point out that the fossil and dinosaur books are by the water fountain, or the insect books are by the big green chair. Don’t forget to ask your librarian for help! “I’ve told parents to come alone so I can show them some things before they come back with their kids,” explains Clift. “The librarian should be happy to point things out.”

4. So your kid will only read Cars and Strawberry Shortcake? Don’t worry.

“I don’t love some of the commercialism,” says Clift. “But hey, some of it gets non-readers to read. Plus, almost any book read to a child provides a positive experience, no matter how old, how new, or how silly.”

5. Let your child pick his own books, no matter what they are.

“I am a big believer in what’s called ‘Free Voluntary Reading.’ That means that kids should get free choice of what they want to check out and read,” says Clift. Research shows that kids who are able to choose their own books read more as they get older, and a whopping 91 percent of kids ages 6 to 17 say that “my favorite books are the ones that I have picked out myself.” (But yes, you can still supplement their picks with some of your own.)

6. Reading has to be fun…so go ahead and let it be a little noisy.

“For little kids, learning and reading is not a silent activity. You have to poke and prod a kid’s imagination,” says Clift. When exploring the library with your child, ask him plenty of questions about the books, the pictures, and anything else. Make him curious!

7. Don’t underestimate the power of a good bookmark.

“I have kids that read because they get a new bookmark every time,” says Clift. “Some showed artwork created by the kids in the school. Some had riddles to guess. Some had animal facts and because then the kids would want to know more, they’d have to check out a new book!” Keep a treasure trove of bookmarks (either purchased or homemade) and let your child pick one to go with her new stack of library books.

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