As a librarian, I have had the pleasure of witnessing the empowerment of children and teens in the library as they engage with resources, technology, and each other. Imagine that this is your second-grade son, Jackson. Jackson and I (as a visiting guest) were waiting for a ceremony at his elementary school library to celebrate its reopening after being revitalized (new furniture, paint, and books). Jackson turned to me and said, “Ask me anything about American presidents.” Surprised, I stammered for a second, but Jackson went right on. “I have read every book in this library on U.S. presidents. You can ask me anything. I’m an expert!”
Indeed, parents and librarians share common goals – that all of our young people will develop the love of reading and learning, that they will become empowered, and that they will have the confidence to let total strangers know they are experts. Parents can form essential partnerships with public and school librarians to bring this journey of discovery alive for their children.
Share the joy of reading
Children derive the greatest joy from reading if they can pick the books they want to read and then share the reading experience with someone else. Go with your child to the library and help him or her pick “just right” books to read. What is a “just right” book? It’s a book that looks interesting to your child. Don’t worry if a book is too hard – that can be the book you read to your child or you simply have a conversation about the ideas in the book. Don’t worry if a book is too easy – that is probably the comfort book that gives the child confidence and fluency in his own reading ability. And don’t worry if your child doesn’t want to read the entire book from cover to cover. Books are meant to be tasted and sometimes a single bite will satisfy a child’s interest. What is important is that you are reading with your child and having a conversation about it (even your teenagers will love this shared reading). That sharing is what brings the joy.
Inspire wondering and discovery
Children ask the most amazing questions. In today’s technologically driven times, your child may habitually start answering questions by searching on the computer. He or she learns to accept half answers because it is not worth the energy to sort through a million hits. Sometimes simple, half answers suffice. But young people become excited when they can really dig into a subject and become knowledgeable enough that they can share their learning with others. You can model real discovery and inquiry when you help your child move beyond the search engine to seek more in-depth answers through online databases, specialized and authoritative websites, or materials in the library. Ask questions. Join in the learning. Talk about the ideas that your child is discovering. Let your child see you learn.
Celebrate creativity and play
Many public and school libraries today offer special experiences that spark creativity. Find out what opportunities await your child. Some may enable children to collaborate and create with others, for example through makerspaces and game nights. In makerspaces, participants have access to tools and materials and experts in order to make something. They might make a small robot using an electronics kit or print a 3-D toy or design and craft a puppet and puppet stage. Game nights at the library involve whole families coming to the library to play board games. They become community-wide parties.
Some libraries offer opportunities for production. Teenagers find their voice by recording their stories and by creating videos to share with their families and friends. Teenagers have even been known to come to the library regularly on Friday nights to write and read their own poetry. As a parent, you can go beyond simply providing information or transportation to these events. You can learn alongside your child and celebrate your child’s creativity and self-expression.
By making the library a part of your family life, you are empowering your child to be an independent learner. Children discover whole new worlds that are outside of their personal experience. They have the chance to imagine themselves in different careers or as intriguing characters in a book. Most importantly, children form a bond with you, knowing that you are excited by their path of discovery. They rely on your support to have the confidence to step boldly into the future that they create.