by Jena Hengstler
Summer break is a wonderful time for children to explore the world around them. But, for many, it won’t take long before they start using the dreaded “B” word. As in, “I’m bored.” Allowing kids to problem solve their way out of boredom is a life skill, but when you really need to direct their focus, look no further than your local library.
L – Library card. Step one of the full library experience is for each child to have their own card. When they proudly ask the librarian if they may sign up for a card, then provide their name and other information – it’s a thing. It’s a privilege and a responsibility that should not be denied to any child, even in our modern app/tablet/podcast/device driven technological times. It’s also the kick-off to a lot of fun trips to the library throughout the summer. Below are ideas to keep those visits fresh and fun.
I – I Wonder. Do you ever randomly ask your children what they’re wondering about? There is so much more going on in their minds than they allow us to see, that you might be surprised by what’s revealed. One of the biggest power moves you can make in any child’s life is to act upon their wonders and interests. When a child feels heard, not just in a passive way but in an honest-to-goodness-what-you-just-said-was-awesome kind of way, it’s extremely impactful to both their learning and self-worth. When your child says “I wonder” – tune in! Listen inquisitively and then follow it up ASAP with a trip to the library. Yes, Googling would be faster, but going to the library and helping them find a book that answers their wonder is a tangible reward for them simply voicing a thought, one that will pay many more dividends in years to come. Help turn wondering into an experience and you’re creating life-long learners.
B – BINGO. Who doesn’t love BINGO? Before you head to the library, have your child draw a 5×5 bingo card (or 3×3 for younger kids) and color in the middle box as a free space. In each square you write a topic, such as soccer, astronauts or Batman. It could be a mixture of fiction and non-fiction topics, or all of one type. Their mission is to find a book on each topic, mark it off their card, then put the book back – trying to get a blackout. Along the way, they get to pick three books to check out at the end of the game for at-home reading. Only allowing them to check out three books is a creative hack, which causes them to look closer at each book, weigh their options, and try to choose just the right ones, which in turn ups their vested interest. To broaden their horizons, try to select topics you know they might already be interested in, as well as new and unexplored subjects.
R – Reverse. If you’re taking multiple children to the library, make it a game where they must choose a book FOR each other, considering what that person might like, just as if they’re picking out a birthday present. They can only pick ONE, so it has to be just the right one. Once they’ve checked out the book, they present them to one another. Add to the suspense by waiting until you get home or to a nearby park to make the exchange. This is a fun twist if a child has lost interest in selecting books. When book selection becomes more about knowing your friends’ or siblings’ interests, it brings back the fun in choosing. They will look forward to seeing what was chosen for them, as well as how the book they give in return is received.
A – Anything but books. Most libraries have a lot more to offer than just books. Take at least one trip to the library to discover what other things there are behind the stacks. Look for audiobooks, video rentals, a scheduled art program or guest reader, computer stations, puzzle building, puppets and children’s workshops. Ask a librarian and see what else there is to discover. There’s usually more to your local library than meets the eye.
R – Relevant and Random. Most kids find what they like and stick to it. At times, this can be great for reading growth, as reading books in a series that are similar in structure (i.e., Harry Potter) increases engagement and can help with fluency and accuracy. But, as children grow in their reading, exposing them to multiple genres is a good practice. When visiting the library, challenge your children to pick out something “relevant,” meaning something they like or are currently into, but also something “random,” or something different in topic or structure, than what they’ve read before. Maybe that means a book of poetry, or a biography, or on a topic they would never normally choose, such as cheese making. Reading should be both comforting and explorative.
Y – Yonder. Ask your children if there is another country or place they’ve ever wondered about. If their answer is the neighboring town, then discussing the difference between a town, state and country is a great place to start. Until children reach a certain age, the idea that there’s a big world out there is something abstract. They may need help picking a country or place. Once they do, make a trip to the library and focus on researching that particular country or place. Children will naturally feed off your enthusiasm, so get involved and help. Look for books that will help them locate the place on a map, show pictures of the culture or experience the cuisine with an authentic recipe to try at home. Oftentimes this type of project can go in different directions, which is perfect. Let their interest lead them on an adventure. Explore traditions, language, global impact, games, sports and school. What better and literal way to show a child that reading can take them anywhere?
Visiting the library may seem outdated or old fashioned to some, but with a little guidance and encouragement, your children might be surprised at what can be found there. Parents and caregivers may also enjoy the time, so allow yourself to be present and enjoy making memories. Share stories of your own childhood trips to the library or some of your favorite childhood books. Rediscover the smell of a library paperback. If you’ve never had those experiences, it’s not too late.
Jena Hengstler is an elementary teacher. She always knew she wanted to work in education and has had a 15 year career charged with just as much learning as teaching. Her teaching journey has been filled with successes, trials, love, heartbreak, celebration and humility – all for the love of children. Jena calls the beautiful state of Wyoming her home. She loves doing life with her husband, Larry and her son, Hudson. When she isn’t at school, she enjoys reading, writing, drinking coffee that is still hot, watching sports, being outside and will always make time to watch the sunset.