Guest Blog: Have You Discovered Your Local Library?
This winter, I moved from Italy back to New York City with my 1.5-year-old daughter, Alma Louise, to teach for a semester at NYU. We had to leave behind my husband and 10-year-old stepson to go back to single living for five months, well, single living with a baby. For many reasons this time has been a challenge, being far from my partner and Almalou’s brother, learning to re-navigate the city with a stroller, missing our dog, Lenny, but a big part was, how to fill the day in an inexpensive kid-friendly way. In Italy, we go to the beach, take walks through the piazzas and visit the market. Babies are worshipped in Italy, so everything can become a family event! In New York, I struggled to find age-appropriate spaces and activities that felt right. I am not a fan of over-scheduling young children, putting them in lots of classes or on teams, but I wanted Almalou to have social interaction with kids her age and adults other than me.
It was on an uneventful walk through Chinatown/the Lower East Side when we stumbled upon the Seward Park Library. I thought we might poke our heads in, see if my old library card worked and take out a few books. What I found instead was a large crowd of children with parents, grandparents, and nannies in a sea of shredded paper! It was a program called Sensory Stations, and it took over the entire second-floor children’s section of the library. Kids were filling buckets with paper, using spaghetti scoopers to toss shreds in the air, rolling around and making snow angels, it was awesome! The people were friendly, diverse in age and background and the librarians were welcoming and encouraging. We felt immediately at home. The next day we came back for storytime which is held five days a week at this particular branch, and it was then that we fell in love.
My kid became enthralled by the songs and the books, but also the patience and attention of the librarians. Toddler time, the sessions we attend, are for babies who can walk until three years old. The first half consists of a welcome song, a chance to pet the puppet of the day, some books, more songs and then bubbles and shakers. When the ethereal music of Raymond Scott comes on, all the kids know bubbles are coming up and begin to float around the room, too excited to wait! They love to choose an egg-shaped shaker from the basket with a chance to shake it, dance and get silly! It is a simple routine, but I find sticking to routines to be incredibly comforting to my daughter, especially at this time away from home.
The librarians also provide lessons, not just for the children, but for the caregivers all throughout storytime. They remind us of questions to ask while reading to our children at home, what color is the horse? How big is that ball? How many oranges do you see? They suggest songs and movements to do with a particular story, and talk about the importance of exposure to counting and the alphabet way before many of the children can speak or understand numbers. The series of books they have been reading about Pete the Cat has introduced Almalou to story structure, rhythms and even emotions like disappointment, not to mention a pretty hip cat!
I hope that visiting the library each week instills a lifelong love of books in my daughter, but I also hope that it puts her in touch with a community of neighbors and friends. Our library has become a place to go not just because it is raining outside, but an anchor for our new lives here.