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Early Childhood Program Plans for Fall 2021

Last week, I posted a link on ALA Connect to a very informal Google Forms survey to collect some data on plans for early childhood programming for this coming fall, and also shared it with heads of children’s departments here in Suffolk County, NY. So far 40 people have filled out the survey! Thank you all so much for providing this data, an overview of which I’ll be sharing in this post.  

Concerns about what conditions we’ll be facing this coming fall are on everyone’s minds as we plan programs and services for the remainder of 2021. As of the time of this post, children under 12 are still not eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. This, combined with concerns about the continuing spread of the Delta variant, has many library staff thinking about how to offer safe and engaging programs for our youngest patrons and families as we move into the fall. Hearing what other libraries have planned is always helpful (for me at least) in working through complicated situations like these. Everything that follows reflects responses received as of the morning of July 21. Links to view results and add to the survey can be found at the end of this post.

Responses to the Yes/No/Not sure questions are as follows:

To the question “Will you be holding in-person early childhood programs (for children ages birth-5 & their families) this fall?” 82.5% of respondents said “Yes” and 17.5% said “Not sure yet.” No one said “No.”
To the question “If you answered yes, where will you be holding your in-person early childhood programs?” 42.9% said “Inside the library,” 14.3 said “Outdoors,” and 42.9% said “Both.”
To the question “Will you be holding virtual early childhood programs this fall?” 59% said “Yes,” 17.9% said “No,” and 23.1% said “Not sure yet.”

To summarize, almost all respondents are planning to hold in-person early childhood programs this fall in some form. When it comes to the location of those in-person programs, a majority of respondents were evenly split between holding programs indoors and holding programs both indoors and outdoors, plus a small set indicating outdoors only. Slightly less than two thirds of respondents will definitely continue to hold virtual programs as well, while some are still on the fence and some will discontinue them. 

For those libraries holding in-person programs, the types of programs they have planned ran the gamut of typical early childhood fare – storytimes, Mother Goose, baby lapsits, seasonal programs, craft programs, kindergarten readiness, and so on. In an open-ended question, the survey asked what will be different about in-person programming in reaction to COVID-19 for those libraries holding in-person events. By far the most-cited plan was to limit registration/capacity of programs. Also mentioned were requiring masks (for everyone over age 2 and/or for unvaccinated staff), and increasing cleaning or providing wipes for families. Abby from Oldham County Public Library in Kentucky shared that they will be holding their early childhood programs before the library is open. Melissa from Pflugerville Public Library in Texas shared that they won’t be using toys like scarves and shakers in programs. In the additional notes section, Natalie from Orange County Library System shared some of their system’s recommended guidelines, “[…] such as not sharing items like bells, egg shakers or doing ring around the rosy to discourage families from holding hands or sharing objects; using tape lines or carpet squares or hula hoops to encourage spacing out families and distance from presenters, or if using tables, having signs saying one family per table.”

In different areas of the survey, several respondents mentioned that they are planning programs with flexibility in mind in case infection rates climb and library hours and services are adjusted. However, there was plenty of positivity as well. Maggie from The Smithtown Library shared that “patrons are very excited to return to the library for programming. This summer we are hosting in-person programs, and they are simple, ‘back to basics’ programming. Patrons are so happy to return to the library for activities; they do not mind that things are more basic. It is wonderful to meet our new patrons who were born in 2020-2021.” Several also mentioned the continuing popularity of take-and-make style crafts, and plans to continue offering those. 

What are your thoughts about the coming fall? Share them in the comments below, or feel free to take the survey, which is still live: https://forms.gle/rTbdKvcAYkMG6vfM6 (please note that this post won’t be updated to reflect new responses).

You can see the full results of the survey here (names are completely hidden): https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1T6HpoYeRi9TNe_0JLQr7yZA1ZW2NqvyioAdIm9z0q2w/edit?usp=sharing 

Darla Salva Cruz is a co-chair of the Early Childhood Program and Services Committee and Youth Services Consultant for the Suffolk Cooperative Library System in Bellport, New York.

This blog post relates to ALSC Core Competencies of: I. Commitment to Client Group; III. Programming Skills; and VI. Administrative and Management Skills.

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