A children's reading area is one of the most important parts of a library. It has the opportunity to bring together generations of readers together in one area, to share in a love of reading, to share in play, and to share in engaging with each other around a common interest and medium - books and other resources. Not only does it have the power to bring together family members, such as grandparents, parents, brothers and sisters together; but it introduces a new generation to the library.
From First 5 Forever, we know that sharing stories, rhymes, singing, talking and playing with a child from birth builds a foundation for a child's future development that can last a lifetime. Research (MCEECDYA, 2010) states that up to 90% of a child's brain development happens in the first 3 years. Children learn language by listening to it and using it, and learn through being engaged and doing, through watching and copying. So these early years are critical to helping children create a bond with books and reading. To fully maximise their developmental capability and nurture their interest and passion in stories and reading, their experience of the library must be positive. Here are our top tips on creating a children's reading area that is functional, enjoyable, and delivers on our shared mission to increase childhood literacy rates and facilitate inter-generational engagement through books and reading.
Make it Fun
Children are fairly easy to please! They really don't care what they do as long as they are having fun while they're doing it. Make sure the children's reading area is decorated differently to the rest of the library, preferably using characters from children's books, lots of colour, and different nooks and crannies that they can explore whilst being there. Ensuring that they have somewhere comfortable to sit, a space that they can 'own' is critical to making them feel safe, welcome and engaged.
Importantly, don't present the books in the same way as the rest of the library. Children will make judgements on what they want to read based on the pictures of the covers of children's books, so make sure that there are plenty of covers visible. Having books pulled out by their spines is going to potentially damage them, so consider that children have less concern for the care of resources, so its probably best to limit the potential for damage through their method of display. Also children who can't read don't find book spines useful, and they will pull them all out, only for your team to have to re-stack shelves all day.
Make It About More Than Books
A library is not a toy store, but there is a happy middle ground between only having books, and using other mediums to engage children. Puzzles, colouring corners, and moulding clay areas are just a few options to get the children excited about visiting the library. Also, there may be sections of your community that don't have the financial resources to provide toys or various engagement resources to their children, so the library may be one of the few places where they can experience these things. These also contribute to childhood learning, so they shouldn't be underestimated.
Also, remember school holiday activities and make sure you cater for this period! Parents are always looking for ways to entertain their children during school holidays, and this is the perfect opportunity to provide great programs, activities and events that deliver both educational and entertaining activities. It is the perfect opportunity to show how flexible, exciting and engaging your library is. Even providing rudimentary maker spaces for young children with crafts, and giving them free reign to explore can be fanastic way to nurture creativity and learning. By the way, pinterest is a seriously cool platform for providing ideas for library programs, activities and events, for all ages. Just search "School holiday library programs" and be flooded with ideas from all over the world!
Take advantage of the fact that you will see more locals appearing at the library during these peak times than you may expect, and provide something or deliver value for all!
Remember the Carers
When you are creating the children's reading area, don't forget the people who brought the children in the first place. Allow parents or other carers to choose their level of interactivity. In other words, cater for parents who want to sit next to their children and read books with them, and also those who wish to set an adult chair, and watch the children enjoy themselves, explore and play. Don't forget that parents can sometimes be isolated, so the opportunity to engage with other parents can really help community inclusion.
Mothers groups, friends with children, and other groups are always trying to find places that they can sit down and have a chat while still being able to keep an eye on the children. Bonus points if you have access to a nearby café (what parent doesn't crave a great coffee!), and if you can make the area friendly for groups. Moveable, modular furniture that can be shifted around by groups to facilitate their needs is absolutely ideal, so that people can create library spaces that work for them and address their needs. The library is no longer about remaining static, but about being fluid and adaptable to the needs of its users.
The sound of a small child engaging in various written formats, and the laughter that is constant from a children's reading area is one of the best things about a library. Taking the time to get it right – for the children and their carers – will make it a popular hub, and a place people will want to return to.