The PreK Library Debate
Whether or not PreK students should be part of the library schedule is a heated question.
Many educators and school librarians say absolutely not.
PreK is Too Young for the Library
For one, they think that a PreK child is too young for a scheduled library class. There is a belief that it is developmentally inappropriate for a young child to participate in a class that lasts longer than 20 minutes. For many schools this is impossible to schedule. And so often, the decision is made to leave PreK off the schedule all together.
This is unwise. Specifically because of the research behind early literacy. Young children need to be exposed to books and a love of reading at an early age.
Even 20 minutes a week in a library, with a certified Librarian or Library Media Specialist will reap literacy rewards.
PreK is Hard to Teach
Often times, PreK children are left off of the schedule, because PreK children have specific developmental needs. And many educators are not trained to meet those needs.
It can be very overwhelming to meet the needs of 20+ two, three, and four year olds.
It takes a certain type of energy, mindset, and planning to create a welcoming environment for preschool students. Add onto that, having them borrow books. It can feel downright daunting.
But it doesn’t have to be.
PreK Children are Too Young to Learn Anything
All children can learn. Regardless of age.
But this misperception is typically steeped in the previous 2 misperceptions.
The truth is that once you know how to meet the needs of a PreK student, then the learning is endless!
Once you blast those 3 myths of hosting PreK in the school library, then you’re ready to get books in their hands.
Why PreK Students Should Borrow Books
One reason why many school librarians don’t lend books out to preschool children is because of their age.
There are the beliefs that preschool aged children will trash the library books or they won’t be returned.
With some strategic teaching, they will be ready to borrow and take really good care of the school library books.
But first, let’s look at why PreK Children should have access to and borrow books.
Introduce the Concept of a Library
When young children visit a library, and borrow books from a library, they learn the concept of a library.
At a young age they are developing an understanding of what value libraries provide. And they learn the concept of borrowing.
Borrowing is a great skill to teach children. It eliminates that mindset of “needing’ more stuff in our life.
And it teaches them to take care of things that belong to others.
Love for Literature
There is something quite sad about meeting someone who is aliterate. People who can read, but don’t have ot developed a love for literature.
Although, if they had only had some valuable time in a library and plenty of opportunities to borrow books, their reading lives would be different.
When children get to attend library and borrow library books, they learn that reading is fun. The more fun they have choosing and reading books the more frequently they will read.
Kids who want to read become adults who want to read. And people who read make informed life decisions.
Early Print Concepts
Young children can and should learn to read books. When really young children get to choose and borrow books, they get a lot of time to practice early print concepts.
A trained librarian or media specialist can teach young kids:
- hold a book.
- turn the pages from right to left.
- read the pages from left to right.
- pictures give us meaning (hello, inferring!).
- print letters give meaning (hello, decoding!).
Just because a young child may not be able to read the words on the page, they will begin to understand all of this. And they will practice with borrowed books what they have experienced with their school librarian.
Benefits of Early Reading
When preschool children get to borrow books, they develop the benefits of early reading.
Early readers build their vocabulary. This is a frequent concern of young children who do not attend preschool. Their vocabulary development is typically dramatically less. When young children hear books read aloud to them and then get to practice reading in borrowed library books, they build their vocabulary.
A strong vocabulary is important to developing communication skills. Children with well developed vocabularies better understand and participate in conversations.
And of course, early readers who have developed vocabulary and communication skills are more likely to be employed in a high skill job.
Book Care Skills for PreK Students
One of the biggest reasons why school librarians don’t let PreK students borrow books is because they worry the books will get trashed.
The best way to make sure that doesn’t happen, is to teach them how to take care of books.
Developmentally, young children are just learning the whole idea of books. We all know how babies will chew books. Which is why they are books made specifically for this.
But, preschool children are not babies. And they won’t be eating the books. Yet, they do need to know how to take care of all books. Especially ones that don’t belong to them.
Holding a Book
Young children do not instinctually know how to hold a book. They learn from adults modeling it, and explicitly teaching it.
Deliberately teach your PreK Kids to hold a book in their lap, place it on a table, or lay it on a floor.
Then they know that books are not hats, skates, or seats. And yes, they will try to do that if they are not taught otherwise.
Sounds silly, but kids need to learn how to turn pages.
Their little fingers are learning how to pinch and grab things. It is not natural for them to carefully turn a page.
For some of them it will down right hard. Which is why I recommend having board books in your school library. Really young children who are still developing their pinching skills (aka fine motor), will benefit from the thicker pages of a board book.
But many PreK kiddos are ready to carefully turn picture book pages from the corner or side. They definitely have to learn not to turn pages from the bottom. Because they will rip and tear!
Really young children benefit from choice. And browsing books is no different.
But because a lot of choice can be overwhelming to kids that are new to it, you can limit those choices.
Start off by having small piles of books at different tables or in baskets. Then work up to a small shelf. And then a small section.
This helps them gradually see and understand the variety of books available in the school library. Which will build that love for literature!
Book Borrowing Routines
Once PreK students are comfortable with and competently holding books, turning pages, and browsing books it’s time to teach them how to borrow books.
Teach them specific routines to checkout books, carry books, and return books.
Tips for Circulating Books to PreK Children
When circulating books to PreK children, it’s important to have help. Most PreK classrooms have an assigned paraprofessional. Definitely take advantage of that and use them well.
Either have the paraprofessional help the children find books, line up at the circulation desk, read a book to children as they check out, or monitor the students watching a read aloud.
A lot of paras also enjoy learning how to checkout books to the children.
Know who else likes helping PreK kiddos? Older kiddos! My 2nd – 5th graders love coming in to help the PreK choose and borrow books. And this is a great incentive and responsibility of older kids.
It’s important that the kiddos know exactly where to find the books they want to read.
This doesn’t have to be elaborate. Just make sure they know where the board books, picture books, their favorite authors, and favorite topics can be found.
Model the Process
It’s important that young children learn how to:
- pull a book off the shelf.
- look at the cover.
- take care of a book they choose not to borrow.
- line up at the circulation desk.
- transition from the circulation desk to whatever activity you have planned.
- hold the book while lining up.
It typically takes PreK 5 minutes to choose and checkout a book. Once done, have an activity prepared for them.
I like to show my students to transition from the circulation desk to the rug. At the rug, they quietly watch a story on the TV.
You could also have them read their books or do a building activity.
The important this is to have them do something after they leave the circulation desk. If you don’t, it will be utter chaos. And you’ll feel like you’re herding cats.
Let’s be real. PreK kids have no sense of time. And they won’t know which day is their library day. Be proactive in this and set them up for success with book return reminders.
Book return reminders look like:
- Bookmarks that tell students and families which day to return library books. Just pop those into the book when you checkout the book for the kiddo.
- Send out a notification to families that their child is borrowing books from the school library and what is expected. I like popping this into Seesaw.
- Set up book return reminders in Destiny. I like setting these up on auto send; reminding families the day before to pack that book into the backpack so it gets to school on time.
Students and families really like being able to borrow books from the school library. And it is a great way to promote what you’ve got to offer in your library.
Instead of stressing out about PreK being irresponsible with library books, get those routines up and ready for them to be successful!