Lifelong learning at your local library

By Jamie Morris

Mother Goose Program presented by EarlyON at Lindsay branch.

You’re never too young to learn, and with older kids back in school and settled into their classroom routines now is a good time to think about the resources on offer for pre-schoolers at that other educational institution, the Kawartha Lakes Public Library, where lifelong learning happens.

As Lyndsay Bowen, the library’s outreach and community engagement librarian (and a qualified teacher), notes, “children’s brains develop most rapidly between 0 and 5,” so it’s a crucial period and any young parent will tell you those first years are a challenging and constantly shifting terrain to navigate.

Paloma Pridham with her grandson Leo in her lap.

Fortunately, the library’s there to assist every step of the way.

It begins at the very beginning with the Reading from Birth program, coordinated by recently-retired librarian Diane Lansdell and funded by the Friends of the Lindsay Library group. Every time a baby is born at Ross Memorial a volunteer arrives with a hand-crafted book bag containing a book (“Rock-a-Bye Baby Reader”) and  a “Babies Love Books Guide” meant to be hung up  for easy reference and containing month-by-month info on developmental milestones, tips, recommended books and a focus (“Sing to Me” for month one, for example).

Perhaps the most valuable part of the package is the bag itself.  Libraries are much more than books on shelves, but books are still very much the heart of what they do. Over those first five years children will be read to constantly, then progress to starting to read independently. They will need a steady stream of board books, picture books and levelled first readers.

“It’s not unusual for parents and their children to sign out 10 or 20 books at a time,” says Children’s Librarian Julie Lynch. (She speaks from experience:  for the past 35 years Julie has been a welcoming presence in the Lindsay branch’s Children’s department.)

That’s a lot of books and it’s worth pointing out that all the books, not to mention DVDs and other materials, are available free with an (also-free) library card. (Individual picture books can cost $25 or more, so buying books could quickly add up).

There’s another invaluable library resource: the librarians. At any of the 14 library branches in the City you’ll find librarians looking to match you with the books you want. They also offer a range of programs for the preschool years. There’s “1,2,3 . . . Babies on my Knee” for the youngest, Toddler Time  for 1-3 year-olds, Story-Time and Crafts for 3-5 year olds. At the Lindsay branch there’s even a “Read to the Dogs” program that employs a St. John Ambulance child-certified therapy dog for beginner readers–the ultimate in non-judgmental audiences. The monthly calendar sets out days, times, and locations.

An expanding partnership with the EarlyON Child and Family Centre brings in additional expertise and programming for preschoolers of all ages. Most EarlyON staff are Registered Childhood Educators (RECE) with many years of family support/ child development programming experience.

Altogether they travel to nine of the library’s branches.  EarlyON Executive Director Pippa Stephenson describes the process: “Our staff utilize their creativity, in collaboration with the library staff, to adapt our programming for some of the smaller community library spaces. It’s pretty amazing what they can bring by car, in two bins, that enables rich conversations regarding child development and parenting, provides community resources, and– most of all– interactive child-parent fun!”

One Program

What would you experience if you dropped in on these programs? If it was, say, the EarlyON-led “Mother Goose Program” at the Lindsay branch you’d first see a line of empty baby carriages,  then 15 or so mothers with baby-blanket swaddled infants in their arms, but let’s take a closer look at a typical Toddler Time experience instead.

Tuesday, 10:30 am: 17 caregivers and 21 toddlers have settled onto the carpet in the open space of the Lindsay branch’s old Carnegie wing. They form a half-circle facing librarian Julie Lynch, who sits in an armchair. Julie is equipped with a stack of picture books, some hand-puppets, and a box of rhythm instruments (tambourines, bells, maracas among them).

Julie welcomes everyone and starts right in. Everything is very relaxed but moves along briskly. There’s lots of physical activity and lots of noise — chants that involve clicking tongues and stamping feet, songs, and banging of rhythm instruments to accompany recorded music.

There are quieter stretches as well. Julie shares two picture books, each with big pictures (today it’s Hello Baby and the classic Hungry Caterpillar). As she reads, she engages the children (“What do you see?”)

They all finish with a craft. Today it’s a clothespin lamb. Caregivers assist their toddlers and socialize with one another.

Afterwards there is a lot of replenishing of families’ supplies of books and DVDs.

The Value of All This

For the children the books and programs are keys to language development and literacy. (Any kindergarten teacher will tell you that children who’ve been read to have a huge head start).

For parents it’s all good. “Committing to come once a week creates the habit of a dedicated time for literacy, and models what can be done at home,” says Lyndsay Bowen. For new parents it takes some pressure off and gets them out of the house.

EarlyON’s Kim White points out that the programs also forge connections. “It’s all about relationship-building,” she says. “Parents are connected to other parents coping with the same challenges and organizations that can support them, and to strategies for bonding even more closely with their offspring.”

And for the library itself there’s the pleasure of welcoming the next generation as they set out on what will be a lifetime of learning and library use. Among the adults at the toddler program, almost half were grandparents, readers themselves, who decades earlier had brought their grandkids’ parents to the same program.

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