In 2011, The Los Angeles Public Library incorporated a component into its Summer Reading Club to actively engage children under the age of five. The four-year-old and younger set, for the first time, received their own age-appropriate folder as encouragement to earn incentives for meeting specific literacy based goals. In the Children’s Literature Department, we had 212 children in this age group sign up for the Summer Reading Club. This was great, but we thought we could do better, so in 2012, we took steps to get our youngest patrons to participate even more! In addition to year-round family storytimes each Saturday, year-round preschool storytimes each Tuesday, and summer craft programs for ages 5-11 each Thursday, we set aside a half-hour each Wednesday morning to present “Baby Story and Playtime” for children two years old and younger!
Having never focused so intently on children this young, we were all a bit nervous. We’d had plenty of experience with the slightly older preschool kids, but babies have their own requirements. We began honing presentations to enhance the development of pre-literacy and fine motor skills, while modeling fun activities that parents and caregivers could utilize away from the library setting. Our original intent was to provide a short, five program series, just for the summer. 20 babies and 17 adults showed up for the first program! Attendance peaked at program number four, with 26 babies and 31 adults in attendance. The average attendance was 43 people at each program! Our goal had been to get 75 zero to two-year-olds to join the Summer Reading Club, but the actual number of kids this age who joined was 109! It was evident from the enthusiastic response that this program merited a year-round commitment. After a brief breathing spell, we resumed the baby programs on Monday mornings in September of 2012 and have been going non-stop ever since!
As with all of our programs, the librarian staff takes turns selecting, preparing and presenting each week’s content. The storytime segment generally includes two book readings and many action rhymes, musical activities, and flannel board stories. Studies have shown that repetition is essential for newly forming brains to make connections, so we will often repeat a rhyme several times, even adding tactile experiences such as touching a puppet or stuffed animal, to reinforce the verbal aspects. The planned portion lasts about 15 minutes, and is followed by about 15 minutes of free play. Studies have also revealed a strong connection between imaginative play and cognitive development. We provide an array of toys such as rubber balls, plastic rattles and bells, foam blocks, interlocking animal shapes, scarves for playing “peek-a-boo”, puppets, and board books. (All toys are cleaned with disinfectant weekly!) Sometimes we even get out a parachute for fun teamwork oriented activities. It’s been fascinating to see the range of abilities within this seemingly narrow age group. A few children have been regulars since the outset, so we have literally seen them growing up. At the initial sessions, the children seemed to stick pretty close to their adults, but with time, they’ve become much more social.
Baby Story and Playtime is free and occurs every Monday that the library is open at 11:00 a.m. in the Children’s Literature Department. For more information, visit the Los Angeles Public Library website at www.lapl.org or call us at 213/228-7250. You can also like us on Facebook!