According to the Children’s Reading Foundation, “It takes hundreds of hours of ‘lap time’ for a child to acquire the pre-literacy skills necessary for learning to read early and well.” Twenty minutes a day is enough to accomplish that goal by the time a child is ready for kindergarten.
Any adult with even the most rudimentary reading skills can do it. Even adults who can’t read themselves can hold a picture book and make up stories. But does every child receive that kind of attention? Alas, no. Here is one way the library can greatly help.
Of course, a skilled children’s librarian is no substitute for the daily attention of a caring parent, grandparent, aunt, uncle, older sibling, or neighbor. If a child has no one who will take that time and effort, who will take him or her to the library?
But perhaps if responsible older people can be persuaded to take preschool children to the library and listen to a story hour, they can see for themselves how easy it can be to read to children and how much the children enjoy it.
As children get older, they do not outgrow the need for adult help. Once a child learns to read, continued reading aloud helps the child master reading skills and grow in enjoyment of and comfort with literacy.
Let both the child and older person taking turns reading and listening, while both looking at the same page.
But eventually, every child’s information needs will outgrow a parent’s time and ability to be the major provider.
The children’s librarian offers a number of skills that every school child needs, including but certainly not limited to:
- familiarity with the stories and information sources appropriate for each grade level and subject
- ability to facilitate group interaction during story times or other age-appropriate discussions
- offer a less formal atmosphere than the classroom in which children of different backgrounds and skill levels can participate as equals
- ability to lead art programs, gaming competitions, and similar programs that parents could not reasonably be expected to devise
- ability to spark children’s imagination to find and explore new interests–and to show them how to find the tools and resources they will need for the journey.
Once children get to high school, they need not only research tools for completing class assignments, they begin to need tools for planning their future. Children’s and young adult librarians can help them determine what kinds of careers they want to explore and understanding what kinds of training and education are necessary and available.
Children’s librarians cannot duplicate the work of teachers any more than they can substitute for parents or other older, responsible adults in each child’s life, but they serve as a vital supplement and help.
Every school ought to have its own library or media center, with professional staff. Some of them are eliminating libraries and reassigning librarians as a false economy. In that case, children’s librarians at public libraries become all the more important to the success of the community’s educational efforts.
Even if the schools have excellently staffed media centers, the library is special as a place. It’s different from school and offers different programs and opportunities.
These programs, probably attract children from more than one school. They increase children’s chances to experience and learn to interact comfortably with children from different neighborhoods and backgrounds.
In this way, libraries open children’s minds not only in the sense of their intellectual development, but also their social development and other important life skills.