Libraries are magical, aren’t they?

I love ours, and no matter what kind of day I am having,
I am able to relax the moment I walk through the doors.
What’s not to love about the Library?
(besides the occasional crankypants librarian who seems to think that children ought not to visit).

But let’s focus on the many positives:

First, the smell of books.
Come on.  Tell me that’s not one of the best smells on earth. 
And the older the library, the better the smell. 
Ahhh, and the wonderful hushed quiet that greets you when you walk in–
it’s just a little slice of heaven for this busy mama, I tell ya.

Then of course, the warm and fuzzy feeling of being surrounded by SO.MANY.BOOKS.

Oh, the joy of books.

That’s what we REALLY love most about the Library, after all, right?
Stacks and stacks and stacks of books–just waiting for you.

Each time we enter the doors,
I love to take my time to soak in all the details
that makes the library the special place that it is.


So perfect.

ever so S L O W L Y
I weave my stroller full of munchkins
around the shelves
I reach

The Children’s Department.

And that, my friends, is where the nostalgia ends,
because the Children’s Department is a whole OTHER kind of library place.

Oh, the Children’s Department.
We do have a busy one in this town

In fact, other than the books, it is very much UNLIKE a library
in so many, many ways.

It is not usually quiet.
(at least not when we visit).

It’s rather like a giant play area, in a large room lined with bookshelves.
Believe me, the kids love it.  But it’s just a wee bit crazy in there.

No, instead of secluded and peaceful, it is open and busy.
Busy with children doing everything but sitting and reading–including my kids. 

It DOES have its own smells, I’ll give it that– but most are not good ones.

In spite of ALL THIS, I must admit that it too, is a magical place.
And it’s grown on me to where I almost like it as much as the upstairs.

It’s like vacation before and after kids. 
It’s not that you can’t enjoy it anymore;
you just have to redefine what “vacation” means. 
Once you do, you’re golden!
Same with going to the library with kids.

My whole library experience has been redefined, and I must say,
despite the fact that every 3rd visit ends rather embarrassingly for me due to the

behavior of my feral children, overall–they do great, and we all leave happy after an enriching experience.
But I will tell you that I’ve become rather strategic in my preparation for, and time at the Library to make each trip worth my while (we go every 2 weeks).  This will obviously become more important as we continue homeschooling.
So here are a couple of tips for ya, to help you AND your kids get the most out of your Library visit:

1. Choose books purposefully. 

Don’t make a habit of  just haphazardly choosing (or letting your kids choose) whatever books you or they just HAPPEN to pull off the shelf. 
Because let’s be honest. 
There are books.
Then there are good books.

As our kids grow, it’s our job as their parents and primary teachers to notice changes in their interests and tastes, and try to provide literature that fuels their desire to read and learn.  We want them to experience QUALITY literature, and to be challenged at every age and stage.

Too controlling, you think?  Maybe I should let them have at it, and just choose their own books each time we go to the library?

Well…to some extent, I do…each of them always leaves with a couple of books that THEY chose on their own…but the rest are carefully selected by mom. 

Because, well…Mother knows best!

I know that my 5 year old daughter, for instance, is REALLY into stories that have an element of adventure, with characters that are caught in some sort of exciting, dangerous, or mischievous predicament.  She especially loves real-life dramatic accounts (modern or historical).
Recently, she’s really started enjoying poetry books too. 

My big 3 year old, in true boy form, is into non-fiction, informational books.  He loves to study the photos of animals, trucks, airplanes, or see how a house is built, and when he can, he likes to name the parts or titles of each story element.  He too, enjoys adventure stories, especially the ones that feature mischief makers (ex: No, David books, I Ain’t Gonna Paint No More, Rotten Ralf series).

Yet at ages 5 and 3, neither of them know where to FIND these great books (heck, I don’t know where to find them half of the time!).  So for now, it works best if I do most of the hunting for books (and asking their whearabouts) while they are busy in the library playland.

Here’s my routine when I visit the library with my kids:
EVERY time I go, I take a large bin in with me.  I make my big kids walk, and I use my sit-and-stand stroller to push the baby and the book bin.

Once inside, the children happily spend our first half hour or so playing in the playhouse with the many puppets available, or creating castles with the large soft building pieces littering the floor of the children’s department. 

I just let them play (with stern warnings not to run, or act crazy, etc), and then I use this time to start hunting for good books on the shelves around us.

No running or craziness going on here.  Nope. None whatsoever.

2.  Use a Book List

As we have chosen to Classically educate our kiddos, I almost always have THIS LIST with me:  and in addition, I take my own running list of books we want to read.
Often times, our list has old favorites we have already checked out, and want to bring home again.

Additionally, you can always check online with the ALA and the ALCS (Association for Library Service to Children) for printable lists of good-elementary-reads.  There are some top 100 book lists that provide a great place to start. 
Here is the ALCS list of Notable Books for 2011, though you can search by any year.

Alternatively, you could begin by reading through the Caldecott (for younger children) or Newbery (older children) award winners.  These are the books that were voted “best” in children’s literature each year, dating back to the 1930s (Caldecott) and 1920s (Newbery).

3. Choose a Chapter Book (or two) for Reading-Aloud

The beauty (and fun) of reading aloud to your kids, is that they can understand chapter books that are multiple grade / reading levels above their own.  You read (and sometimes stop to explain or discuss) and their little imaginations do the illustrating.  For read-alouds, you can begin working through the classics for children, checking out a new one every few weeks, or again, checking out the many lists of award-winning or notable chapter books. 

4. Get to Know Your Library, and ASK FOR HELP!

 Part of making good use of your time at the Library means getting to KNOW your way around the stacks–as in, what books are where.  Be sure to seek out a staff member and ask questions.  Where are the computers located for searching for book availability?  How is the Children’s department set up?  As your kids are able to learn, teach THEM how the library is organized.

5. Be Smart (and disciplined) with Your Time

This sounds like a no-brainer, but I’ve had to really be deliberate about it.  What happens is I ALWAYS meet these great moms at the library, and I am tempted to just pull up a chair next to them, and spend the entire time chatting away.  I’ve done it many, many times.  And sadly, when it’s time to go, I usually have to haphazardly fill our bin with whatever we can grab on our way out the door once my kids have decided they’ve had enough of the library.  So now, I choose books first, and THEN I chit-chat. :o)

I am usually able to gather about 20 QUALITY books by the time my kids get to “that point” in their playing where they need to be settled down, removed for timeouts, or given potty breaks.

6. Preview and Narrow Down Your Selections

Once we reconvene, and settle down, the baby goes back into the stroller, and I allow the big kids to go pick out their own books, and bring them back to the table.
I spread everything out in front of us, and I quickly preview them (it’s always a good idea to preview books for your kids before bringing them home).  We also put the ones that are not-as-great-as-we-thought in a “leave here” pile.
Finally, we spend some time reading just a few of them, to whet their appetites. :o)

Why so many books?
Yes, we do check out a lot of books each visit–usually between 20 and 30 (hence, the bin…and the large fees if when we’re overdue). 
Why so many?  Well, these 20-30 books have to get us through 2 weeks worth of bed-time reading routines, plus supplement our preschool & kindergarten reading program.  Good literature is the meat and potatoes of our home education.  The more, the better…in fact, I might need a bigger bin.

Time to Go
 Now, remember how I shared about how you have to just redefine the idea of what a library visit is, in order to be able to enjoy visiting the library with your kids…?  Well, guess what?

IF you make good use of that chaotic time, and IF you choose wisely, and fill your arms (or bin) with a stack of really good literature…well, THEN on the way HOME from the library you will be rewarded with an absolutely beautiful gift.
Can you guess what it is?

Here, take a peek…

Looking back from my rear-view mirror as we leave the library, I get the reward of seeing my children with their noses in their books, READING QUIETLY

And occasionally leaning over to share the REALLY good pages with one another…

Ahhhhhhh, it’s a beautiful thing, isn’t it?  This feels like success to me.

Heehee, and check out this guy–he couldn’t get past the front cover of his book before we pulled out of the parking lot; but who knows? Maybe he’s dreaming of puppies and bouncy balls. 🙂

It’s never too early to make a trip to the Library part of your kids’ regular routine. 
And remember: it’s FREE!
Let them experience the magic of the Library, and the joy of bringing that magic home. 

Happy Reading!

2 thoughts on “How to Make Your Trip to the Library Count

  1. becki

    A great idea to get those books that go along with what you are trying to do is to order them ahead of time. Just go on the Carnegie Library website, put your number in, and start requesting the books you like. That way when you go they are all waiting for you. Your kids can still pick a book from the shelves and play with the toys. My only problem seems to be getting everything back on time! 🙁

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