Imagine walking into your public library with “child eyes”. What would you see? What invites and excites? What might overwhelm? What would you want to do?

Your local library is the perfect setting to welcome your child to the magical world of books. It is a place filled with wonder to young eyes as children look and see shelves upon shelves of books in all different shapes sizes and colors.

Ahh…the stories hiding behind those covers, the illustrations to peruse. To a young child the entire world is right there on those shelves. She can take a trip to the bottom of the ocean on the “Magic School Bus” or fly through the sky with a reference book about airplanes. Best of all, there is no remote, no channels to change or mouse to click. These worlds are just waiting inside the books and can be accessed by opening the cover.

Look around. Imagine the weight of the shelves, the smell of the papers, hear the hushed voices, feel the solidity of a book in your hands. A trip to the library is multi-sensory experience that engages all the best ways young children learn. When you and your child step into a library your senses tell you that you are someplace special.

When I was a child I waited for Friday evening with great anticipation because it was Library night! I couldn’t wait to go to our little library at the top of the stairs over the police department. Climbing those steep stairs I felt like I was making my way to the gates of a castle filled with treasures. My mom was wise to set aside a special day for the library. It helped my sister and I plan ahead and to remember to return our books on time! Try setting a specific library day each week or every two weeks. A regularly schedule library days gives your child a day to look forward to and helps you to remember to keep it in your busy schedule. Mark the library days on the calendar with a favorite color or a sticker so your child can look ahead to the next trip to the library. She will be using important sequencing and beginning reading skills. You might want to arrange your visit around the story times offered by the librarian. If you plan to dovetail your book selection time with story time, plan to select your books before the story hour. Usually the library is less crowded beforehand and the librarian will have more time to assist.

Interestingly, when I was very young I was a bit afraid of the librarian. It was not that she was a frightening person but the fact that she was “in charge” of all those books! It is important to introduce your child to the librarians. If they have the time, librarians often like to give children a tour of the library and help them get their first library card. Don’t worry too much about explaining the rules (such as whispering) at this point. Young children pick up the rules very quickly just by observing the behavioral model you and the librarian embody. You might want to call ahead to the library and ask for a good time to make an appointment for your first visit! This will allow your child to make a personal relationship with the librarian as well as the library itself. Next time your child walks through the door, she will see a familiar face smiling at her!

Growing up in our house, books were considered almost “sacred”. We learned at an early age not to harm or disrespect books. It is important to show your child the proper way to handle books. You or the librarian can impress her with the importance of proper care for books. Librarians often show children books that have come back to the library damaged by dirty hands, scribbling or tearing. When children see this they are more likely to understand the importance of protecting books so that everyone can enjoy them. It is essential for children to lean the responsibility of taking care of books.

I was so in love with the library as a child that I could have moved in there for the night! But my mom was very clear about the guidelines for our library evenings. She had a set amount of time for us to explore and choose a particular number of books. Knowing the expectations ahead of time and gentle reminders (“five minutes until we check out books”) gave a comfortable structure to what could have been a free for all! While it is important to allow your child ample time to browse through the children’s book section be sure to set the parameters for the time together. You can point to the clock and draw on a piece of paper what the clock will look like when it is time to check the books out. Or set the timer on your watch so it goes off a few minutes before it is time to check out.

Perhaps for me the best part of the library was the time spent exploring the books with my mom and sister. Finding just the right books was just like a treasure hunt! Share your child’s excitement at finding a book of interest…even if it is not really the perfect “take home” book. Ask your child what she finds interesting about it. Notice something about it to celebrate. Perhaps it is the colors on the cover, or the size of the book. Talk about the book together without discounting her choice. Put the book in your pile and then point out other books on the most appropriate bookshelves.  Eventually when you get to the “weeding out” process of choosing the three to take home, the less appropriate book gets left at the library!

My sister, mother and I would always choose at least one or two books to read together. Sharing a book in the library is a special occasion for children because they get to read in a place where they are surrounded by books! Find a cozy corner or plop on the floor and read. This “pre-take-home” time allows you and your child to decide if this is a story that you will all want to read again and again. If so…take it home!

Don’t forget to get a book for yourself while you are there. You will be modeling a love of reading that will stay with your child her entire live. To this day, I love the library and books. Thanks mom.