Library day was a huge highlight of our week when my children were little. But it wasn't without some stress. Trying to keep little ones quiet, finding quality literature that you are willing to read your children, managing an infant in a car seat, keeping track of toddlers who need to hold hands, and carrying a bag of books and a purse can make the whole experience not worth the energy. Add in a 1st or 2nd grader who can read EVERYTHING and it just might seem easier to stay home! I thought I would share some tips today on how to make library day more fun for you and your children.
Before the library visit:
Practice having a daily quiet time centered on books. In our home, we call this SQUIRT: Super Quiet UnInterrupted Rest (or Reading) Time. Before naps, I would read a couple short stories to the young children. They were then allowed to take three books on their bed to look at silently. When they were finished looking at their books, they were to rest quietly. Practicing this daily allowed even my school age children to take a nap on days their body needed it. YES, I said school age! Our home had SQUIRT well into my children's middle school years. I have teens in the house now and they still sometimes ask if the family can have SQUIRT for a while. Don't we all crave a little quiet and alone time each day? SQUIRT provided that time and taught my children how to be content quietly with a few books. This is a life skill needed for a successful library visit. Don't expect to find a library tolerant of your loud children, train your children to comply with century old library etiquette.
Request books online for your children. I use some resources to help with this process: Honey for a Child's Heart by Gladys Hunt and Whom Then Shall We Read? by Jan Bloom. Both of these books provide lists and information about quality children's literature. The first is organized by book - the second by author. I try to request about two thirds of the books I eventually wanted to bring home. This allows me to spend my entire time at the library focused on assisting my children make their selections. If you homeschool, another great resource is All Through the Ages by Christine Miller, which organizes books by historical time period. Equipped with these resources and willing to invest the time, you should be able to select years of great age-appropriate reading for your child. As a side note, my teens are now much more apt to request a book of their choice online than go to the library and pick up whatever they find on the shelf. They have learned that getting a good book takes a bit more effort.
Discuss Philippians 4:8 and use this as your standard in book selection. "Finally brother, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable - if anything is excellent or praiseworthy - think about such things." The book Beautiful Girlhood devotes a whole chapter on making books your friends. Reality is that what your children read or have read to them is what they will meditate on. Establish a family standard based on God's Word. Rather than saying, "Mommy doesn't like this book," say, "This book doesn't meet the standard in God's Word because _______" (the children call each other names, or disobey parents, etc.) Your goal as a parent is not just to keep poor quality literature out of your children's hands, your goal is to produce hearts and minds that can discern according to God's Word.
Establish the number of books each child can personally select. Our family does have the rule that the parent has final veto rights on each book selected. There is a lot of junk on the shelves in the library and just like I would not allow my child to fill my grocery cart with all junk food, I don't allow them to bring an entire stack of junk books home from library day. As the children get older, I do allow an occasional book that I deem to be worthless. Bringing these books home can encourage the child that their choices matter and create great teaching moments. Take the time later to compare the junk literature to fulfilling reading.
Schedule the library visit for a time when your children's basic needs of food and rest have been met.
Set a time limit for being at the library. I really encourage you to be generous with time. A rushed library visit is a library visit doomed to fail. Libraries by nature are places where people linger, rest, relax, and spend time. Your children will sense this and want to do the same. If you only have time to dash in to return or pick up requested books - go alone.
On the way to the library:
Review library etiquette and establish consequences for children who don't comply with the library's rules. For our family, reducing the number of books a child is allowed to bring home is the logical outcome for a child's misbehaviors. Review your family standard for number and quality of books your child can select.
At the library:
Establish a tone of self-control from the time you open the car door. You can not expect a two-year old who is yelling and jumping while walking up to the library to suddenly be quiet when passing through the door. For a season, I did weekly library trips with a friend whose husband is from England. As he assisted the children, one at a time out of their car seats, he had them place two hands on the side of the car. (Picture someone about to be padded down by a policeman!) Once the father had everyone ready and his bag of books in hand, he allowed them to remove their hands and walk quietly next to him into the library. I snagged that idea and, over the years, my children spent lots of time with two hands on the side of our mini-van! Every time I see small children running in a parking lot, I cringe! Simple practices, established young, can enable a mom of many children to safely navigate dangerous places.
Use a quiet voice yourself.
Devote 100% of your time helping your children make their selections. Only after years of successful library visits can you venture off to the adult section and find your own reads. Take an hour a week and go to the library by yourself if YOU want to check out books. This is your child's library visit, something they have anticipated. For a toddler or preschooler, this is a first adventure into the world. Each book is like an airport gate to a new destination. There might be places they are not ready to travel to yet - to be attentive you must be at their side! Your solo library visit is also a great time for you to familiarize yourself with the children's section, thus you will be more comfortable with the area when you return with your children.
Visit the same library at the same time each week. Make the librarians your friends. Introduce your children. Ask the librarian's name and next week on the way to the library, remind your children of his/her name, and encourage them to say a personal hello when returning their books. Adults are much more patient with children they have a relationship with and this may help gloss over the occasional poor manners on your child's part.
If your children misbehave, (and they will!), be willing to call the library visit to an end quickly. There are people at the library to work, tutor, and perhaps another mom of little children taking an hour rest from her busy home! Show respect for the library yourself by removing children that can not behave. The simple phrase, "I'm sorry for my child's behavior, we are still working on _________ (being quiet, not running, etc), " can smooth over angry stares.
Praise moments of good manners.
After the library:
Reward a successful library visit with a special bookmark or other treat. Have this ready in the car. Don't tell your child ahead of time - that is a bribe. Simply reward and praise what went right. Make some mental notes on what went wrong so you can instruct in those areas next week. A successful library visit takes some energy, but developing a love of reading and learning in your child is worth every bit of your investment.