Thursday, December 1, 2016

Why Toronto Libraries are Awesome for Kids (and Parents)

Toronto Library Children's Story Time

A little while ago, the Financial Post published an op-ed that attacked Toronto's libraries as being "wasteful" and "another costly rider on the city’s Gravy Train." Politics-aside, I want to say that I disagree.

There are many reasons why.

For example, the article states that "Rather than the 100 branches it has now, a more appropriate number for a city of Toronto’s size might be 40 or 50." Reducing the number of libraries defeats one of the main purposes of libraries: their convenience and ease of use.

If you walk into nearly any Toronto library today, you'll find that they are quite busy. This can be a little shocking to people who expect them to be empty (since reading paper books has decreased) but it's true.

At any given library, you'll find people working, studying and using facilities such as printers, computers and photocopiers, in addition to reading books.

But, as for why this post is appropriate for this blog, you'll also find a tonne of great kids programs at the Toronto Library. (If you want to read more debate about that Financial Post article, Torontoist has you covered.)

Kids Programs at Toronto Libraries

My son goes to several different events at Toronto libraries each week. There are even special events for holidays and occasions, such as Halloween parties and puppet shows.

Many libraries have "toddler time" or "family time" which is great for kids of all ages. For example, I often take my 22-month-old son to the story times at the Yorkville Library, Lillian H. Smith Library and Spadina Road Library. They even have a new story time at the Toronto Reference Library that we've been to. You can find full details on these programs on the library website.

When he was younger, we often went to "Baby Time" at various libraries as well. He really, truly loves going to the library and I believe that puts him on a good path for life.

These kids programs have a few things in common:
  • They're all quite well attended. 
    • Sometimes there are only 5-10 kids in a program, but there have been times where I've seen 20 or 30 kids in attendance. This certainly shows demand for these programs.
  • They're drop-ins. 
    • You don't need to sign-up or book in advance, which is great for parents with young kids. Toddlers are notoriously tough to get out the door on occasion, so it can be tough to get them to regularly attend scheduled activities.
    • Having a drop-in also means you can try out new programs without committing to anything, which is great.
    • Having them at different libraries on different days allows you to be flexible with your schedules as well. If there was only one library program a week, it would be much more difficult to attend.
  • The librarians are incredible 
    • Every single program I've been to has been great. The librarians who run the story times are engaging, entertaining, enthusiastic and truly care. They work to ensure that the kids are enjoying themselves. They also frequently bring in props like puppets, scarves, shakers, etc. for the kids to use.
    • You can really tell that they enjoy running the programs and that they love kids. This matters a great deal.
    • After story time, you can ask the librarians for recommendations for book your child and I've found these recommendations very helpful. My little guy almost always loves the books  they recommend.

Raising a child can be tough. It's often hard to keep kids entertained throughout the day. Knowing that the Toronto Library programs exist is so helpful. These programs are free and accessible to anyone (you don't even need a library card to attend), which is crucial. 

No one has to tell you that having a kid can get expensive. The fact that these programs are offered for free, and the fact that they're of such high quality, is very meaningful. Anyone can go to a Toronto Library story time with their kids. 

In these programs, the kids get exposure to reading, singing, music, dance, interactive play and they get to socialize with other kids. It's very common to have children and parents stay behind after a library program to read, play with toys (several libraries have bead mazes, train sets or blocks for kids to play with), or just to run around with other kids.

In this sense, the libraries kind of become community centres for these children. My son has certainly made friends at the library and so have my wife and I. They're great for building community with other parents.

If you live near a library and have a toddler, it's a really good idea to check one of these programs out. You'll be glad that you did.

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