As parents, we're always looking for a little help to make our parenting better (and easier). Your local library can be the key.

By Vicki L. Wilson
February 21, 2020
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When my son was almost 1, I started taking him to free story times at my local library. Once a week I'd join other exhausted parents with children around the same age to sit and listen to stories, then hang around to talk with the grownups afterward while the kids played. These felt like perfect moments: I was doing something good for my son, and treating myself to some socializing, too. Soon, we were at the library all the time.

"It's probably my son's favorite place in town," says Mindy Currier, a mother of two in New Hampshire who visits her library weekly. Along with story times, her library offers crafts, board games, music, and more. Even the building itself is a draw, she says, with an indoor treehouse reading nook. "I had to pry my kids out when they were younger."

Step foot in your local library and you might have to be pried out, too: What used to be all about books could easily become your new favorite partner in parenting.

If you haven't been to a library recently, you might still think of them as the quiet places to go to borrow books and read the newspaper. Not so anymore, says Anne Debraggio, MLS, director of the Kirkland Town Library in New York. Inside you'll likely find toys, computers, and movies, too. "I believe libraries are the other educational institution in a town besides just the school," says Debraggio. "We're the place that's all about learning, from when you're born to however old you get to be."

And that learning includes play. Although there are still quiet rooms for readers, there are often playrooms for younger children and teen rooms, too. So if you're itching to get the kids out of the house, it's a great option. "I use local libraries almost primarily for socialization," says Jill Stephenson, mother of a 5-year-old daughter living in New York. "I worry that because I don't have her in competitive sports or Brownies, for instance, that she won't socialize with anyone outside of her direct peer group at school."

Parenting Tools Beyond the Bookshelves

Using the library as your newest parenting hack is simple. Sign up in person for a free library card, or some libraries have an online registration option. Then, check out what your library has to offer, such as:

Story times and sensory activities. "One thing people don't often know is that many people who do story times have had specialized training in early childhood education and brain development," says Betsy Kennedy, MLS, director of the Cazenovia Public Library in New York. "What we do is purposeful."

More-than-just-books lending. Dolls, sports equipment, Legos, telescopes, programmable robots, fishing poles, and other items can often be borrowed from libraries in the same way as books. "The library for us is a free activity where there is something for our whole family," says Patricia Grover, a teacher and mother of 5- and 8-year-olds based in New York.

Try before you buy. Things like gardening tools and special occasion cake pans can be signed out at some libraries, saving you the expense of buying an item you may only need once.

Shared entertainment passes. Some libraries offer passes or discounts to museums, parks, and historic sites within your area that they share with patrons.

Events for parents. Book clubs, potluck dinners, educational courses, movie screenings, and exercise classes can be great ways to get out and keep you feeling like your adult self.

And, of course, books. Physical books and even audiobooks and e-books are always available for the whole family in the library and online.

It's easy to find out what your local library offers either by checking its website or Facebook page, if it has one, says Debraggio, or simply by stopping in and talking to the the front desk.

As my son grew, so did our library visits. We decorated pumpkins there for Halloween. We signed out a camping explorer bag complete with a real tent for camping. We went to a screening of Apollo 11. And we've read countless books.

That's what librarians love to hear, says Debraggio. "What a great gift a parent can give, to bring their kids to the library and let them make it their library," she says. "And I see that with lots of different kids—this is completely their space."

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