Let’s face it – the logistics of taking kids into a quiet area can seem like mixing oil and water. Most of us know what a great resource the library is. As homeschoolers, the ability to have fantastic and free resources at our fingertips is invaluable. I’ve heard it said that you can homeschool well with a Bible, a math book, and a library card, and I think that’s probably true!
But just because it’s there and it’s free doesn’t mean it’s easy to use. If you’ve ever visited the library with your kids only to leave feeling exhausted, frustrated, and annoyed…I’ve been there.
As parents, we have to pick our battles, and some days a trip to the library feels like a skirmish we’d rather not initiate. Here are five tips that will help you make better use of the amazing (and FREE) resources at your local library, without going crazy in the process:
1) Take Advantage of the Holds System
When I had just young kids, I was endlessly frustrated that I couldn’t peruse the stacks in the library and keep my kids quiet (or even near me) at the same time. But most libraries have a holds system, so you can request particular books on your library’s website and then pick them up on the holds shelf when you go to the library.
This is a game-changer for parents who are toting around lots of little kids, or who just don’t relish the idea of their older kids browsing the stacks unattended.
If you find that you’re short on time or patience, put a few on hold ahead of time. Then you can pop in and out of the library lickety-split.
2) Use a Booklist
I remember one of the first experiences I had in the library as a parent. I gazed around the children’s section and felt completely overwhelmed; I just had no idea where to start. Surely some of these books were better than others? But where to begin?
Here is what I know: if you don’t know what you’re looking for, the task of choosing something from the shelf that’s worth your kids’ time and attention is daunting, to say the least. This only becomes more difficult the older our kids get. I mean, have you looked at the books in the teen section lately?
The good news is you don’t need to go it alone. Bring a booklist! My own favorite list is free online, so it’s easy to pull it up on my phone no matter where I am.
A booklist can be your training wheels as you choose books for your kids. Let someone else who’s done lots of reading help you find something worth your kids’ time and energy.
Some of my favorite booklists include: The Read-Aloud Family, Honey for a Child’s Heart, and Give Your Child the World.
3) Introduce Yourself to the Youth Services Librarian
Speaking of someone who has read widely…have you introduced yourself to the youth services librarian yet? If your librarian gets to know your kids’ reading preferences, he or she can be invaluable in helping them find their next favorite book.
Trust me, there is nothing a youth services librarian likes to hear more than a child asking, “Can you help me find something to read?”
4) Try to Visit On the Same Day Each Week
If you’re like me, library fines are a thing. I know I can renew my library books online, but…I forget to!
The best way I’ve found to keep library fines at bay is simply to make library visits something we do on the same day every week. If I know that Fridays are library days, then I’m prompted by my calendar to take the kids (and turn our pile of books in) — and while I’m at it, to check on our accounts.
Many libraries have library card options for homeschoolers that don’t charge overdue fines for materials you use in your homeschool… and everything counts as learning, right? 😉
You may not be able to find this information on your library’s website, so give them a call or ask at the checkout desk next time you’re there.
5) Ask Your Kids What They’re Hoping to Find Before You Go
One of my biggest library frustrations is the way the TV-character and otherwise junky books attract my kids like bees to honey.
If you struggle with this too, I’d suggest you ask your kids what they’re hoping to find before you step foot inside the library’s door. If your child says, “dog books” or “the next book in that series I can’t put down”, you can then direct them right to that shelf (or ask the library staff where it is!). This strategy can do wonders for improving the quality of the books you bring home.
But really? Remember that good taste is acquired over time. Letting you kids check out a few “lighter” books and then making the bulk of what you bring home come straight from a reliable booklist is a great way to keep your kids excited about picking their own reading fare, and still helping them develop great literary taste.
Once you get in the habit of making the library work for you, it can provide your homeschool with some of the best learning experiences your kids will have at home.
Even better? Your kids will discover that taking time to select and read books is part of what normal life looks like— that’s a gift we won’t ever regret giving to our kids.
About the Author
Sarah Mackenzie is the author of both “The Read-Aloud Family: Make Meaningful Connections with Your Kids” and “Teaching from Rest: A Homeschooler’s Guide to Unshakable Peace”
On the immensely popular Read-Aloud Revival podcast, she helps families all over the world make meaningful and lasting connections with their kids through books.
She lives in the Northwest with her husband Andrew and their six kids, where she homeschools and loves to make sure their kids are well-stocked in the best books she can find. Connect with Sarah at readaloudrevival.com