The early childhood area of the library is a magical place. It is filled with wonderful books and other materials that show and tell children amazing things and introduce them to interesting and fun characters. It is familiar and comfortable, a place where they can tell the staff everything that happened to them that day, kick off their shoes and flop down in a chair. It is a place where children can be children without inhibition. Some safety rules are needed, such as no running the aisles or climbing the shelves and “inside voices” are preferred, but the occasional outburst will not produce terrible results.
Today’s children’s room is nothing like that of the 1960s. Silence may have its place in the reference and reading room, but here children are encouraged to use language. Some children’s rooms even play classical or other music in the background.
While the early childhood materials need not be physically separated from the rest of the children’s area, it would be ideal to have some kind of separate space set aside for play and interaction with the various materials.
Regardless of the exact amount of space you are able to create, there are a few key components unique to an early childhood area and points to keep in mind:
While the room itself does not need to be painted bright colors, it should be livened up with posters, children’s artwork, or similar visually stimulating wall hangings.
Additional space should be set aside for group interaction. An adjacent conference or meeting room works well for presentations, but even a corner of the children’s area could be set aside/designed for lapsits, storytimes, music, read alouds, etc. Art projects could be created at tables. When looking for an area to use for children’s programming, keep in mind the fact that children (and some adults) are easily distracted. Look for a space that does not face the reference desk or bustling children’s room, does not have a window that looks out onto a busy street, is not next to a bank of computers, etc. All attention should be on what is happening within the program.
Find or create space for a parent or parent-teacher collection. This special collection consists of items on both adult and children’s levels shelved together in the children’s area. It could be range from a few shelves to a corner all to itself. Information in this area and some sample titles could include:
Child development: Your Baby from 6-12 months
Bibliotherapy – aids for addressing issues or common problems that arise: Potty Time (van Genechten), Going on an Airplane (Rogers), The Secure Child (Greenspan)
Bibliography - books about books and other resources: Babies Need Books (Butler), Oppenheim’s Toy Portfolio
Games that encourage developmental play: Games to Play With Your Baby, Pat-a-Cake and Other Play Rhymes (Cole)
Arts and crafts with young children: Mudworks (Kohl), The Little Hands Art Book (Press)
Storytelling: Family Storytelling Handbook (Pellowski), Read Aloud Handbook (Trelease
Preparation for school: Phonics, The First Day of Kindergarten
Consider pulling alphabet, counting and concept books out from among regular picture books and featuring them in a special area. You will find this very effective in serving parents. It not only allows for easy access to these types of material, but it highlights these developmental needs and stresses the importance of such concepts in children’s readiness for school. Some kindergartens send to parents of new enrollees a list of skills children should preferably have before beginning kindergarten, and knowledge of the alphabet, counting and concepts are among them. It can become an attractive and well-used section of the library.
The early childhood area will demand regular attention and pick-up throughout the day for reasons of both safety and effective usage. Tidying up this area is a wonderful task for a teen volunteer but it could be incorporated into page, clerical or librarian duties.
Materials in early childhood collections will also require regular cleaning, weeding and replacement.
Toys and puppets should be disinfected and cleaned periodically.
Toys should be inspected for damage and removed or replaced if necessary.
Board books must be checked for broken spines, excessive chew marks, etc.
Picture books do get sticky and dirty and can be cleaned systematically by teen or adult volunteers.
Picture books must be checked for torn pages, missing pages, crayon and pen marks, etc. and repaired or replaced.
Pop-up books should be checked for torn or missing pieces and repaired or removed.
A thoughtful, well-designed early childhood area will draw great usage and be very effective in aiding infant through preschool development. You will be pleased to notice parents using the space regularly, meeting other parents there, and chatting amongst themselves while their children play. The children themselves will enjoy being there and will feel comfortable breaking away from their adult to head over there and play. Listening to positive interactions between adults and children, between children, and seeing how older children assist younger children with materials is a special reward for your efforts.
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