Guest Blogger

Baby Time Boredom No More at #PLA2024

It seems like baby time boredom is sweeping the nation, if the turnout at my first presentation for the day, Baby Time Boredom: Building Culturally Responsive Programming for Ages 0-3, was any indication.

Annamarie Carlson (Westerville Public Library, OH) and Sarah Simpson (a former librarian and current Family Engagement and Literacy Specialist at the A. Sophie Rogers School for Early Learning at The Ohio State University) presented to a full house of fellow children’s services librarians waiting eagerly for fresh ideas on this classic program.

Using a culturally responsive model looks different at every library, and that’s exactly the point. By weaving your patrons identity into your programming, you make things personally relevant to a family’s experiences. Simpson talked about pulling inspiration from “funds of knowledge” – children’s accumulated experiences in their households with siblings, friends, communities, and caregivers. In addition, it’s important to think about your community expansively. How are you preparing children to be not only local citizens, but citizens to larger counties, states, regions, and across the globe?

The presenters offered a wealth of ideas for how to incorporate an individual’s identities into your programming. They ranged the spectrum from small, passive changes like editing materials to more active, long-term relationship building and family partnerships. On every level, they involved ideas for incorporating the actual families that attend our storytimes and library programs in ways that I’d never considered before.

Passive charges involved weaving different languages and diverse images in your materials during storytime and programming for birth to 3. Labeling the materials you use like shakers, scarves, toys, and books with those words in other languages is a subtle way to signal that using languages other than English is encouraged, not just tolerated. Other ideas were using photos of children from across the world, tying in heritage months to your storytime themes, and highlighting photos of your storytime families in a slideshow. Simpson also shared an idea of an adult craft program to make a “My Family” book using stiff felt and a Cricut heat press.

While these small changes can create a more inclusive environment, the presenters shared ideas for more actively seeking out families as partners with the library. Learn and use children’s names. Make small talk during downtime before and after storytime. You might start with chatting about the weather, but after a few weeks you could be discussing concerns over meeting developmental milestones or learning a family’s favorite song from their culture.

The presenters brought up many ways to cultivate these long-term relationships with families, like hosting events such as Baby Olympics, Baby Resource Fair, or a Baby Prom. In each of these programs is an opportunity to highlight songs, music, images, and themes from non-Western countries and cultures. Can you offer song requests at your baby prom? Can you highlight sports and athletes not commonly known in the US but beloved elsewhere? Can you bring local community/support groups to the baby fair to connect isolated parents with a larger community?

If your relationship with a family is strong enough, you might even be able to partner with them on storytimes and programming around holidays that are important to them. Simpson told us about a family’s request to share about their celebration of Saraswati Puja, honoring the Hindu goddess of literacy and knowledge. They presented to her group about how their family likes to celebrate this holiday, and the caregiver helped the library develop a craft activity with letters in different languages.

The key to this kind of programming partnership was keeping it specific to the family/families in your community: no culture is a monolith, and there’s no one way to celebrate any holiday. The point of the programming is connection – growing understanding and relationships not only between the library and the family presenting, but among all the families who attend your programs.

As a Baby Time presenter myself, I was so energized by the ideas presented at this session. I often talk to parents and caregivers at the library about feeling isolated and struggling to make friends. Adding language barriers or being a newcomer to a community makes that isolation even more pronounced. I really felt like this conceptualization of baby time as a place to learn and share about each other would be a welcomed change.

Ellie Richardson (she/her) is Youth Services Librarian at Arlington Heights Memorial Library (IL). She specializes in services to K-3rd grade students and loves to nerd out over literacy and cognitive science. While not at work making overly ambitious DIY projects, Ellie enjoys karaoke, befriending cats, and long walks in nature to look at birds. This is her first time at PLA (and third conference, ever), and she’s excited to soak it all in while blogging for ALSC.

This post addresses ALSC Core Competencies: I. Commitment to Client Group, III. Programming Skills and V. Outreach and Advocacy.

Please note that as a guest post, the views expressed here do not represent the official position of ALA or ALSC.

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