Article by Sharon Coatney
The most wonderful thing about young children is their absolute enthusiasm to learn about everything, everybody, and everywhere. The libraries of the Blue Valley School District in Overland Park, Kansas, strive to foster and continue that love of learning. By providing fascinating enriched environments, the libraries encourage children to continue that enthusiasm and want to learn always.
The First Visit to the Library
It starts with the kindergartners on the very first day of school. They are welcomed into the library with a great story and maybe a puppet or someone in costume to pique their interest. A favorite first visit story is I Took My Frog to the Library by Eric Kimmel. The children are allowed to take home books that very first time, always. Often, they are amazed that the books are free, asking how to "rent" them, attesting to their early visits to video stores and sadly, not to public libraries. The library media specialist talks to them about what a library is and asks them what questions they might have. Of course, they have thousands and are told that libraries are the place where they will be able to find answers to most of those questions once they learn to read and use all of the libraries resources. They are always amazed.
The first lessons are about finding their way around the library media center and locating the types of books they wish to read. Because they can't read yet, they are asked to make small pictures of all the types of books they want to read and they learn where to place the pictures all over the room. Now even nonreaders know where the dinosaur, the fish, and the princess books are! Children are allowed to browse all the books in the library. All have been carefully chosen with children in mind. They may want to take home a storybook and an atlas or maybe a book about Siberian huskies and a drawing book. They are allowed to take home whatever interests them. Parents are encouraged to read, discuss and look at the pictures in whatever book the child brings home. Many of the libraries allow the students to check out audio and videotapes. Some even allow the checkout of puppets and other realia.
Children are fascinated by the District's libraries: they are all warm exciting places with toys, pictures and interesting student projects on display. The rooms are large with room to ride the rocking horse while reading a good book, to watch a video, or to curl up with a favorite title. Often the library will be home to live animals such as birds, reptiles, and fish. There are interesting book displays that change frequently and feature things that come from nature: unusual rocks, bird nests and fossils, and animal skulls - a perennial favorite! Sometimes a basket of puppets will be placed in the easy reading section. Inevitably, if the library media specialist uses a puppet during story hour, the children start using the ones provided for their own dramatizations. Curricular lessons are presented to the children using video, audio, and computer Smart board technology with which they can touch and interact.
Teachers and Librarians Working Together
The main goal with young children is to help them learn to read and learn how to answer their questions. Stories are the answer. Children's language development depends on it so reading aloud is a constant activity. The District libraries sponsor a unique literacy program, REAL (Reading Enjoyment and Appreciation of Literature). District Librarians wrote this extensive curriculum, which systematically introduces children over their elementary school years to all the great authors, the genres and the book awards and allows children a silent reading time. This program is totally for listening/reading enjoyment. There are no activities and no tests.
Teachers and library media specialist meet together formally once a month to plan curricular related activities. Library media specialists are able to recommend stories in all formats that coordinate with what is being taught in the classroom. Kids love stories. Stories are presented in many varied ways using computers, video, and audio. Librarians and teachers read, tell, and act out stories and by first and second grade students are doing skits and readers theater themselves. Packets of books are sent home to encourage parents to read. Kids read books and then the media specialist makes a videotape of their book discussions for parents and children to enjoy.
Young children always welcome learning to do research, because they want to know the answers to everything already. Research is done by using pictures and reading aloud, discussing and commenting on what has been learned. Research is then linked to the children's own lives for retention through discussion and drawing and telling and retelling. Research is done with paper dolls and their costumes; with realia like statues of state symbols such as the buffalo and the meadowlark; with field trips to look at bugs and spiders and leaves and flowers to compare them to pictures in library books and on the Internet. Children validate what they have learned in the library about zoo animals by going to the zoo and checking. Early research projects require students to draw pictures of what they found. Later, students discuss together what they have learned while the teacher or the library media specialist summarizes the discussion in easy statements on a chart. Students then can chose their own favorite fact from the chart and write it down. Eventually students learn to write their own sentences down from the sources they are reading or viewing. That is the beginning. By the end of third grade, the students are writing paragraphs summarizing and interpreting information that they have found.
Students particularly enjoy using web quests and web treasure hunts. There are many good examples of quests found at http://webquest.org/. This site is particularly helpful because the quests posted here are graded and are tied to school curriculums. Another site, Filamentality, is very helpful to teachers and librarians because it assists them in making and posting their own curricular related web quest and web treasure hunts. There are many sites with web quests and activities for students, however, the direct curricular related sites are the most valuable to use at school.
Young students like to make products that show what they have learned from their research. Students have made mobiles that report what they have learned from their research about astronauts and space flight. Kindergartners made a book with pictures of all the state symbols that they had studied through using the resources of the library media center. First graders have constructed whole environments in their classrooms; made murals, and built models that reported out information they learned from research. All of the sources used were carefully selected by the school media specialist to reflect the age and reading level of the student.
Students go into the intermediate grades loving stories, understanding that research in libraries is interesting, fun and not hard when they listen and learn the needed skills. A new library goal is then set. How to keep them interested in learning?
About the Author
Sharon Coatney, library media specialist at Oak Hill School in Overland Park, Kansas, is a past President of the American Association of School Librarians (http://www.ala.org/aasl/). A popular presenter at state and national library conferences, Sharon also works part time as an editor for Libraries Unlimited. Sharon and her husband, Jeff, two cats and two dogs live on a small rural acreage near Lawrence, Kansas. She has two grown children. Mark, her son, is the News editor for Time Online. Daughter Rachel is a teacher.
Published: March 2002