Preparing children for a lifelong love of learning is a goal shared by most children’s librarians, although the ways we cultivate that joy vary vastly. There is, for example, no standardized way to deliver a storytime, and no prescribed set of programs a library absolutely must offer. This vagueness can be helpful because it allows us to cater to the uniqueness of our communities, but if I could suggest a common theme to incorporate into most children’s programming, it would be family engagement.
The goal of family engagement, especially with our youngest patrons, is to empower caregivers to be their children’s first teachers. A recent research article from Frontiers in Psychology states that this movement is largely underway in spaces such as children’s museums, but also mentions that not every community has access to a museum, and that admission costs can be a barrier to families. Luckily, libraries are able to provide a space that is free to enter, where intergenerational learning and play can happen.
Caregivers in every community can benefit from programs that keep them in the forefront of their children’s learning, but this can be especially important for families in underserved communities. Adults in any family can feel reluctant or anxious about teaching their children topics they do not feel confident about, but for new American families and those who speak a different native language, this anxiety can be much higher as they may wonder whether they are adept enough in English to assist their children with language learning. This is where libraries are able to step in, and help build confidence in the families they serve.
Storytime is just as important for caregivers as it is for their children.
There are many ways we can empower caregivers, from adjusting how we interact with families during our programs, to amending the types of programs we offer in general. Here are just a few suggestions for consideration:
– Involve caregivers in storytime!
In the featured photo for this post, you can see almost all of the adults in my outdoor storytime circle waving scarves as we sing together. I recommend that whenever props are being used, every adult in attendance also receives one, as it helps encourage involvement. In addition, I recommend having lyrics available on display for everyone to sing along with you. I always remind families that storytime is just as much for caregivers as it is for their children, because I want them to be able to learn the activities we do together and continue them at home. This makes learning an ongoing activity that extends well beyond storytime.
– Offer programs that inspire caregiver involvement.
Almost every program is enhanced when a parent remains in the room and participates with their children. To that end, I also offer programs where adult involvement is a requirement, such as a family craft night where every caregiver and child both receive the same activity so that they can work together. Similarly, the STEAM Club that I host every month always has caregivers both helping their children, and creating their own projects. All of the adults are therefore able to learn the same lesson as their children, so that they can continue reinforcing the ideas we learn about.
– Build confidence in caregivers organically by encouraging them when you can.
It’s understandable when librarians feel as though they are being didactic by inserting early literacy tips into their storytimes, or when they try to express the importance of caregiver involvement in any program, but don’t let that stop you! Start small, and maybe offer written tips on a handout at the end of storytime, or try to insert at least one early literacy tip during the program. I like to tell families at storytime that I’m so happy they were able to make it, and that they are doing a wonderful thing for their children by bringing them to the program. For adults with older children, I continue to encourage them to work together with their children, and keep supporting their learning. Whenever you’re presented with an organic and authentic opportunity to encourage caregivers, I challenge you to go for it!
Want more ideas?
These suggestions are just the tip of the iceberg, so for anyone interested in learning more about how they can empower caregivers in their community, I recommend taking a look at the resources below. ALSC’s Library Service to Underserved Children and Their Caregivers Committee has begun the process of editing and updating all current public toolkits, in addition to adding a family engagement component to each toolkit. These resources are intended to provide professionals with even more guidance and support on this important topic, and we can’t wait to share them!
The Importance of Family Engagement
Promoting Caregiver Involvement at the Public Library
Every Child Ready to Read 2017 Report
ilovelibraries Family Engagement Toolkit
Ewa Wojciechowska is a Youth Services Librarian at the New Castle Public Library in Delaware and a member of ALSC’s Library Service to Underserved Children and Their Caregivers Committee. All views in this blog post are her own.
This post addresses ALSC core competency I. Commitment to Client Group and III. Programming Skills.
All photos courtesy of guest blogger.