For as long as I can remember, I’ve always loved books. There are several photos of me at my birthday parties surrounded by presents, friends and family, clutching a new book in my hands. My mom worked at the Bensalem library during my early childhood, and I have so many memories of attending story hours, summer activities and more. I knew this was something I’d want to continue with my own children. And so, when my youngest, Charlotte, was just a few months old and my son, Henry, was not even 2, it became one of our first regular destinations. As a new mom of 2 under 2, it was a struggle in the beginning to get us out the door and figure out a way to contain my rambunctious toddler while tending to a newborn, but I was determined. We attended as many Story Time Hours as we could, sometimes even spending an entire morning at the Langhorne branch as it offered the entertainment of Penn’s Little Village in addition to the books! Go to a Story Time, play in The Village, go to another Story Time, then head home for lunch.
So, you can imagine how disappointed we were when all of the libraries shut down last spring at the beginning of the pandemic. Sure, the kids have overflowing bookshelves (and baskets) of books in their rooms and throughout the house, and we can always order online, but there’s just something special about picking out a few new books on a regular basis. (Plus, it’s easier on the wallet, too!)
When the libraries reopened in the summer, it was one of the very first public places I took the kids again. And the first place they needed to wear a mask. They still ask often about when the toys will be back out, when beloved Penn’s Little Village will reopen, and where all the other kids are. And I truly hope that live Story Times reopen before Henry heads off to Kindergarten in another year. But in the meantime, we’re figuring out ways to still experience the wonders that Bucks County libraries offer.
Here are a just a few suggestions:
Pick a Theme!
For the most part, I give the kids free reign when it comes to the books they choose at the library. But I almost always ask them before we go, “What kind of books do you hope to find today?” Especially with little ones as young as mine, it helps me navigate them a little better. For instance, Henry decided today that he NEEDED a book that specifically included his current favorite train model, GG1. Instead of sticking to the kid section of the library, we headed over to NonFiction Adults, and I was able to find a few that he was excited about. Because all 4 year olds get giddy about reading “The History of the Pennsylvania Railroad” before bed, right? Since we’re headed to a dinosaur event next week (more on that soon!), we were also sure to find a few dino-themed books to read over the weekend.
Take a Look at the “Storytime on the Go” Bags
Of course it doesn’t replace the social interaction that comes with being in a room filled with other caregivers and little ones all listening to a story while sitting cross-legged on the floor, then getting their sillies out by singing and dancing. But, the library is trying to bridge that gap by putting together themed Story Time bags that you can pick up to take home. The paper bags have themes clearly marked and include about 5 books, and then printouts with some songs and a few other suggestions that you can do at home.
(This is also a great option if you want to just run in and grab a bag yourself to bring home to your child.)
Join the “Badge Squad”
At each library, you can find a display of badges that your child can earn by completing a few tasks centered around a specific theme. There’s also usually a bagged craft out that correlates to one of the available badges. (This replaces the crafts/events that they used to hold in the library for children.) Once you complete the tasks, simply ask a library employee for your badge! (TIP: Often, you can ask for the badge in advance if you know you won’t be back for a little bit, and they’re happy to help you out.)
Designate a “Library Bag” in For Your Child
Maybe it’s just my kids, but they were making me crazy with mixing their library books in with the books we owned. So I decided to get them each a personalized bag that we only use for going to the library. And then they keep those books in that bag when we’re at home unless we’re reading them. (My 4 year old is much better at this.) They get a kick out of carrying around their bag in the library. And I always let them know when we go inside, how many they’re allowed to get. (I usually keep it to 3 since we go often.) They know that once they’ve decided on a book, they put it in their bag. Then they LOVE to place their bag on the self-service checkout counter where it “ZAPS” their bag and magically knows which books we’re taking home. And then when we’re ready to return the books, I just have to ask them to grab their library bag from their room. BONUS: It also makes for a cute way to display the badges they’ve earned!
Check Out Different Libraries & Make a Morning/Afternoon Out of It
While the Langhorne Branch used to be our go-to because it had Penn’s Little Village, we’ll now switch it up by going to Bensalem or Levittown. As the weather improves, we might try libraries that are even further away. You might think that it seems strange to not stick to the one closest to your house. These days, there aren’t that many places that I get to take my kids, so any time we can do something a little different is exciting.
If you’re visiting the Bensalem Branch, there’s a playground right across the parking lot. At Langhorne, there’s a playground just a few streets over. At Levittown, they don’t have toys out anymore, but they DO have a small wooden “playhouse” structure that my kids love to take their books inside while talking to me through the window. (There’s also Richman’s and Dairy DeLite just minutes away!)
And if you’re not comfortable visiting the library in person just yet, they offer virtual story times and other activities, too. Just follow on Facebook for details!
Whenever Story Hour starts up again, we will be there! Until then, I’m grateful that the library is open again to keep that love of books and sense of wonder alive for my kids.