Closer to a decade ago than seems possible, I was a young mom of three small children very close in age. Outings of any kind were intimidating to me because of the monumental effort required to get all of us out the door. But we desperately needed THINGS to fill our days while Daddy was at work (or perhaps more accurately, I needed them). What can you do with a 6 month old, a 2 year old, a 3 year old, and no entertainment budget to speak of? You can take them to the library, of course! “Good moms” take their kids to the library, right? So I decided that we were going to start being a library family. We would go every week for storytime and come home happy with a bag full of books. It would be exactly what we needed.
So the next time Wednesday morning rolled along, I made sure the baby went down for his morning nap early and I woke him in time to nurse while his siblings had a quick snack. I took two toddlers to the potty and put them in their just-in-case diapers (I wasn’t risking that disaster). I buckled everyone in carseats, drove us downtown, and found a spot in the crowded parking lot. We made our way into the building right on time, the younger two riding in the stroller and my “big kid” holding onto the side. I had it all under control. We arrived at the busiest storytime I had ever seen: a large carpet full of kids, ringed by parents whose child to adult ratios were most certainly smaller than mine. We sat where there was room for us, in the back of the circle where we had no hope of seeing the pictures. My toddlers pressed for space on my lap, which was already full of the 6 month old who, to my embarrassment, was barefoot. A barefoot 6 month old had seemed completely reasonable at home; here, it felt like a huge mistake. (What are the rules of baby footwear etiquette? This is still a mystery to me.) The older two stared wide-eyed while the group sang songs we didn’t know, and the baby became restless. I wish I could tell you that we persevered and grew from this experience. But we didn’t. We just left. I had forgotten the bag, so we didn’t even bring home any books. Thus began my adult relationship with the public library.
The next time we tried the library, we brought Dad. And we skipped storytime. We tried a smaller branch nearer to our house. The children’s section was smaller, but it wasn’t busy and we could take our time. The baby could crawl on the carpet and the toddlers could comfortably wander the room. We felt relaxed and were able to read and browse bookshelves at our leisure. It was actually an enjoyable experience! We didn’t make library time a weekly event yet, but we visited from time to time on Saturday mornings. As the kids got older, we grew to love bringing home a wide variety of books. Few things were as beautiful as the calm (not always quiet, but calm) that descended on our house when we sat down together on the couch to delve into a new stack of books, fresh from the library. I learned to use the online catalogue to put holds on quality children’s books, both fiction and nonfiction, as well as the homeschooling books that I was by this time devouring. I loved the convenience of being able to quickly pick up all my requested books in one location. We started going more often, and I started bringing the kids, now four of them, by myself on weekdays. We had become a library family.
When we moved from Florida to Minnesota, one of the first things I looked for was the library. We were fortunate enough for several years to live just a mile away, and walks to the library, now with our fifth baby riding in the stroller, were one of the most enriching joys of our Aprils through Octobers there. We would arrive home with lungs full of fresh air and our energy spent. I would spread our pile of bounty on the coffee table and the kids, a couple of whom were now readers themselves, would dig in all on their own while I made lunch. The younger kids learned such a love of books from their older siblings as they sifted through those piles together, and the memories of those moments are still some of my sweetest. These days we live farther from our library, but we still visit almost weekly and it remains a treasured and well-used resource.
But I have to tell you, we still don’t like storytime.
I’m not an expert, but I do love libraries. If you would like to love your library a little more, here are some tips that might help:
- Go to your library’s website and create an online login. You can manage your account here and place holds on library materials. Browse the catalogue at your leisure while your kids are napping or otherwise occupied, place holds on the materials of your choice, and the librarians will do the hard work of finding the books for you. That way when you go to the library you can focus on your kids AND come home with good books that you want to read.
- If you are running dry on ideas of books to request, you will find that the internet is full of book lists. Charlotte Mason book lists, Classical Conversations book lists, Story of the World book lists, classic children’s literature book lists, book lists especially for reluctant readers – pick your flavor, browse some lists, and be inspired.
- This one may be controversial. I limit my kids to choosing two books each, and the rest of the bag is filled with my choices. Invariably, they choose Pokemon, Disney princess, and movie character books – what Charlotte Mason would have called “twaddle”. There is the line of reasoning that as long as kids are reading, you shouldn’t be too picky about what they read. However, I really prefer my kids to be reading books of quality, and certainly when I am reading aloud to them, I want to be reading books of quality. I find that my kids happily read good books when that is what is available; they don’t really need the “twaddle” to entice them to read. So I limit how much of it comes home with us. This allows us to enjoy more rich children’s literature together.
- Laura adds this tip: “Get to know your children’s librarian. The first time my oldest asked the librarian for a suggestion she was so nervous, but I made her do it herself. The Librarian was so kind and first asked her a few questions to get to know my daughter, then led her to all her own favorite book selections based on what she had learned. Most children’s librarians are very knowledgeable, love to share, and are great examples for your kids to meet of adults who truly love books.”
- Who needs Redbox when you have a library with a large selection of movies and shows? You may have to wait a little while for new releases, but you can probably find plenty of older movies to watch while you wait. We dropped Netflix years ago and we’ve had no trouble keeping ourselves adequately entertained with just the library.
- Don’t forget audiobooks and ebooks. Many libraries make their catalogues accessible via user-friendly apps where you can immediately download borrowed digital content to your device. We have enjoyed audiobooks on car rides and on many lazy LEGO-building afternoons.
- Finally, lots of people really love library storytime. But it’s ok if you don’t. There are lots of other things to love about the library.
Amanda Moldstad is a co-founder of the Lutheran Homeschool Association. She and her husband, John, homeschool their five children in Brooklyn Park, Minnesota.