Commitment to Client Group

More Than a Story: Engaging Young Learners In-Person and Virtually

Craft supplies for homemade watercolors arranged on a table

Reaching children during their first three years is critical to brain development.  Connecting with caregivers is vital for engagement and successful habits.  As we find our programs constantly evolving, how do we adapt?  Now more than ever, libraries need intentional strategies to engage young learners.

Building Intentional Programs

First, get intentional about what you’re doing.  Then, the results will follow.  Children’s programming is fun, but we can’t forget it’s also critical to a child’s development.  We have a unique role in educating and support the adults who love these children.

  • Define your learning outcomes.  Learning outcomes are your road map.  To be a good guide, outcomes must be measurable.  What do you want attendees to take away or learn?  Be as specific as possible.  Are you focusing on a particular area or teaching a certain skill?  Next, think about how these outcomes translate to grownups.  Remember, you’re sharing not only how to do something, but also why they should do it.
  • Determine your focus and goals.  Early learning developmental needs vary greatly.  What’s appropriate for an infant doesn’t work for an active toddler.  To start, choose your target age and focus on what’s developmentally appropriate.  What limits make sense?  Reducing the number of participants allows you to focus on the quality of interactions rather than attendance.
  • Identify your resources.  First, think about what’s readily available.  What do you have on hand?  Then, consider what your families have at home for virtual programs.  You can’t engage them if your activity requires supplies they don’t have.
  • Plan for caregiver involvement.  Remember, engaging adults isn’t accidental.  Adults should lead their children in the activity, not you.  Encourage direct engagement by providing lots of hands-on training.  Consider handouts and resource lists, too.  Virtual programs need extra instructions and suggestions, so provide many opportunities for adults to follow your lead.

Developing Meaningful Program Templates

Two hands squishing paint in a bag to create mess-free art

Templates create sustainable program archives by providing consistent information.  They identify the program’s intention and target audience.  Templates help content creators organize programs and know what to share with presenters.  As a result, programs transition smoothly to any presenter.  This allows programming to continue despite limited filming equipment or staff capacity.  Templates also guide consistent patron experiences whether in-person or online.  Moreover, they are easily adapted to create patron resources.  Include:

  • A description of the program
  • Target audience
  • Staffing and volunteer needs
  • Required technology
  • Room setup
  • Ticketing, registration, or programming limits
  • A detailed supply list with prices and vendor links
  • Background information and resources
  • PowerPoints, handouts, and activity instructions

Choosing Your Program Type (and Platform)

Programs are either stand-alone or series.  Stand-alone programs can happen more than once, but don’t build upon each other.  Conversely, series are usually done in consecutive weeks.  Attendance at the first program isn’t required, but succeeding programs usually build on its concepts.

Virtually, programs are live or pre-recorded.  First, consider what works best for your goals.  Do families need to be passive attendees or active participants?  We post many programs on the library’s Facebook page first.  Then, we add them to our YouTube page.  Facebook lets patrons interact with us by comments, photos, and videos.  Our Every Child Ready to Read blog posts share early literacy tips and baby sign language information.  They allow more content than we can share with video and engage an more adult audience.

Successful Programs

Tarantula puppet sits on a masking tape web.

Here are a few of our favorites that have done well both in-person and virtually.

  • Baby Picasso:  A come-and-go program for children ages 0 to 18 months.  It introduces babies to art and shows caregivers how to connect fun with development.  Babies use finger paints to create their artwork.  In addition, a “mess-free” alternative uses dots of paint on cardstock, sealed in a gallon zipper bag.  Online, we highlight the benefits of infants and art while demonstrating how to set up the activity.  Although it’s geared for infants, it works for older children, too.
  • Discovery Time:  An abridged storytime that’s concept-based and followed by hands-on activities introducing simple STEAM concepts.  STEAM is understandable at an early age.  Further, it helps adults understand that bigger STEAM concepts start small.  Online, we remove the storytime and focus on the early learning benefits of the activities.  We highlight the importance of exposing children to their natural world, and encourage adults to take cues from what’s already popular.
  • Ocean Lab:  A traveling program that demonstrates how everyday activities develop early literacy skills.  It focuses on ocean animals but is adaptable to any popular theme.  Further, a take-home activity encourages learning outside the library.  We’re working to adapt this program virtually.  The take-home activity will be the main activity and then we’ll provide more information about its learning benefits.
This post addresses core competencies I. Commitment to Client Group and III. Programming Skills

Jaime Eastman is a public services librarian with the Plano Public Library.  She enjoys creating and sharing library programs for children that help caregivers make use of skills and resources they already have at home.  In her spare time, she enjoys traveling (especially visiting other libraries).  She can be reached at

Laura Hargrove is a public services librarian with the Plano Public Library.  She enjoys sharing her love of the natural world through library programs.  In her spare time, she enjoys reading with her pack of dachshunds and raising butterflies.  She can be reached at

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