Blogger Library Service to Underserved Children and Their Caregivers committee

No- and Low-Tech Backpacks as Outreach

In summer 2019, the Children and Technology committee wrote about bridging the digital divide with circulating tech.  Current events have forced us to evaluate our resources, services, and access. In times of change and uncertainty, libraries connect families with resources and experiences they may not otherwise have. In addition to virtual programs, libraries must connect with families without the time or ability to connect online. One way to do this is providing prepackaged, circulating materials like backpacks and kits.

Serving Underserved Populations

The Library Service to Underserved Children and Their Caregivers committee is devoting the 2020-2021 calendar year to creating a vibrant, dynamic toolkit that provides ALSC members with up-to-date resources for working with marginalized populations.  So far, we’ve focused on:

  • Children with autism and sensory processing disorders
  • Families experiencing financial insecurity and homelessness
  • Spanish speaking populations, and
  • Access to technology

Today, we’d like to share how backpacks and kits can support these (and other) populations. Further, we’d like to share suggestions for creating your own resources.

Autism and Sensory Processing Disorders

Sensory backpacks promote learning on topics that may be difficult for children. Specifically, they support children with autism spectrum disorders and sensory integration challenges.

A backpack with a book, puzzle, and other children's resources.
Sensory backpacks include books, manipulatives, and parent resources related to specific topics that may be difficult for children.

Here are some items that you may want to include:

  • Resources for caregivers: Try to include at least one book or resource for adults. These might provide information, explore research, or suggest strategies. In addition, you might include recommended websites or community organizations.
  • Books for children: Try to include a few read-alouds for shared reading. Start by looking for books on your topic. Then, look for titles that demonstrate the specific behavior.
  • Hands-on activities: Think of things like cards, games, and other activities. These let families practice the skills taught, like identifying emotions.
  • Fidgets: These toys help with focus and calming. Specifically, they help combine sensations to create a “just right” amount of sensory input. Thus, children are more prepared for active listening.
  • Technology: Consider options like age-appropriate DVDs or tablets to offer different learning options.


Financial Insecurity and Homelessness

A theme backpack for Texas, including five children's books and an armadillo puppet.
A theme backpack for Texas, including five children’s books and an armadillo puppet.

For families experiencing financial insecurity or homelessness, consistent access to library programming isn’t guaranteed. For example, lack of transportation or access to technology can pose barriers. Similarly, inconsistent family arrangements an add challenges. Therefore, storytime backpacks offer portable solutions. Consider adding these for outreach events or drop-off services.

Here are some items that you may want to include:

  • Books for children:  Include several read-alouds for shared reading. First, choose a theme. Then, look for books that pair well. You might include titles for a variety of ages (i.e. both toddlers and preschoolers). On the other hand, you might create kits specific to an age group.
  • Hands-on activities: Would puppets or props help families act out a rhyme? You could also include activities related to the theme, like puzzles.
  • Music: You might be able to find CDs that match your theme. But, is this format applicable for your families? You might also include online playlists.
  • Suggested activities: Include rhymes, songs, or fingerplays. It’s also important to include tips for the tune and motions.


Non-English Speaking Populations

A backpack with books, flashcards, and a tablet related to learning French.
Bilingual backpacks include books, flashcards, tablets, and other language learning resources.

For families who speak languages other than English, offering multilingual resources can provide support. In addition, for families wanting to learn new languages, they can provide accessible learning options. As you evaluate what kits to create, think about the languages and cultures in your community. Besides providing materials in multiple languages, these resources are also a great way to introduce families to new cultures.

Here are some items you might want to include:

  • Books for children:  Include stories that families can read aloud together. First, consider books specifically in that language. Similarly, look at bilingual options. Finally, you might consider stories that represent the customs or culture. We recommend #OwnVoices materials.
  • Language learning: Think about flashcards, dictionaries, or games. Think about who you are supporting: new learners of the language or learners in that language. As a result, you can customize your materials.
  • Technology: Tablets, DVDs, and databases can all support language learning. Moreover, you may want to consider options that don’t require specific tech or Wi-Fi.
  • Additional resources: Similarly, library programs and other community resources can assist language learners.


Access to Technology

A Dash robot and Code and Go Mouse.
STEAM kits demonstrate specific technologies or concepts to families.

Not all families have the capability to purchase technology for their children to explore. However, we know that coding and other technology skills are important to a child’s school and eventual work success.  As you plan kits, first think about your budget. Then, consider community interests and target age groups.

Here are some items you might want to consider:

  • Books:  First, look at stories that represent your tech concepts. Simple nonfiction books related to the skill and biographies of notable tech figures also work. In addition, look at other resources like user guides and challenge cards.
  • Technology:  Think about the specific technology or skill you want to explore, and look at options.  First, you’ll want to consider things like cost, durability, ease of use, and packaging.  Then, think about details. If something breaks or goes missing, can the kit continue to circulate?  Are you able to troubleshoot or get replacement parts, if needed?
  • Instructions and resources:  Think about databases, tips, and other resources that might make it easier for families explore.  Are there off-screen activities that you can suggest that also help families engage with the concepts?


Parting Thoughts

Does your library circulate kits, backpacks, or other pre-packaged resources for families?  We would love to hear about them and include them in our toolkit resources!  Please email us with your recommendations and shares:

ALSC Core Competencies

This post addresses the following ALSC core competencies:

  • I. Commitment to Client Group
  • II. Reference and User Services
  • IV. Collection Knowledge and Management
  • V. Outreach and Advocacy.
About the Author

Jaime Eastman is the co-chair of the Library Service to Underserved Children and Their Caregivers committee.  She is a senior public services librarian and Family Place Coordinator at the Harrington Library in Plano, Texas.  She is abundantly thankful to her co-chair, Joe Prince, for editorial guidance and support to make this post awesome. All photos are courtesy of the Plano Public Library.

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