Wednesday mornings at Skokie Public Library are dedicated to the 0-to-23-month demographic.
Over the past few years at Skokie Public Library, we’ve revamped our programming for the under-2 set. We think we’ve come up with a great way to serve young families. We call it Baby Wednesdays, and here’s how it works.
From 9:30 to 11:00 a.m. every Wednesday morning, we turn our large multipurpose meeting room into a playroom for children under 2. We provide toys, board books and coffee for caregivers, and we have classical music playing in the background. We call this Wednesday informal playgroup Together Time.
From our very first session, it was clear that we were filling a huge need in our community. Young families often feel stressed, isolated and financially strapped. Our free drop-in program connects these families with the library, introduces them to other families experiencing similar life events, gives them access to toys they may not own and provides a relaxed outlet for exchanging information, talking about concerns and forming lifelong friendships. Our typical attendance is around 60 caregivers and children, although we’ve had as many as 80 during our busiest seasons. From time to time, we invite local child development practitioners and experts in parenting issues to attend Together Time to chat with parents and answer any questions they might have. The result is an informal social program in which young children and their caregivers interact with the library and their peers in the community.
But that’s not all. During the school year, in a smaller program room, we also offer two half-hour storytimes concurrently with Together Time. Book Babies, for children 12 months and younger, takes place at 9:30 a.m., and Wonderful Ones, for children aged 12 to 24 months, takes place at 10:30 a.m. Both 30-minute storytimes feature finger plays, songs, rhymes and books. We’ve purchased large sets of board books in order to distribute one book to each adult/child pair so they can read together. We librarians read along with the adults, modeling ways to read with a very small child.
What our Baby Wednesdays offer our families is the flexibility they need at a wonderful, yet often overwhelming, time in their lives. Since there is no registration for any of these programs, no one has to rush to get here, feel guilty about missing a Wednesday or worry about not being able to participate. And once families are here at the library, they have even more flexibility: if, on a particular day, Johnny is just too fussy or active for storytime, he can spend the whole morning in Together Time. If one of our storytimes isn’t working out for Susie one Wednesday, she can try the other one. And caregivers can come and go between storytimes and playgroup according to their needs.
There’s one other element to our Wednesday mornings that we think is extremely important. Both the baby and 1-year-old storytime librarians are present all morning, either leading a storytime or hanging out in Together Time. We make sure to get to know all our participants so that they feel welcomed and valued. This personal touch is especially important with first-time parents, who often feel unsure of themselves. We truly enjoy chatting about the events of the past week, celebrating children’s milestones and hearing all the latest family news. We love the relationships we’ve formed with our youngest patrons and their families, and it’s a joy to watch them grow.
Mary Michell and Gudrun Priemer are youth services librarians.