When I first became a mom in 2018 and was looking for things to do with my little ones, it never occurred to me that the library offered anything other than books.
It wasn’t until I heard another parent rave about “story time” that I started wondering if my local library offered something similar. And so, with my 1 and 3 year old toddlers in tow, we set off for Burlington’s Fletcher Free Library to attend an event called Family Playshop. Playshop gives kids under 5 the chance to explore materials, from Play-Doh to Legos, with helpful and engaging librarians nearby to help.
Our first experience there became one of many as I quickly discovered that libraries offered endless opportunities for learning and socializing. From bringing activities home for a rainy day to participating in interactive experiences like Playshop, we’ve found libraries are the perfect place to get to know our community, for free.
Our family has since become an unofficial ambassador for these neighborhood spots. Not only do we love making new friends, but we also know that many parents and caregivers like us are looking for the same things we are: community, inclusion, and another way to entertain a precocious toddler! With that in mind, I am pleased to share the following treasure trove of library resources.
To learn more about what your library offers, visit its website. Many list their programs, as well as other home-based opportunities, under their “Children/Youth” tab or directly on the homepage. Happy exploring!
Playgroups and programs
Our favorite library programs are constantly changing. Currently my 3 year old is counting the days until he can return to the Fletcher Free Library for Sing Along With Linda Bassick. This weekly half-hour program is filled with acoustic guitar, singing, and dancing with other kids ages 1-7. My son even worked up the courage to ask for a song or two. His favorite song of the moment: the ABC.
We also heard of several other infant and toddler programs at nearby libraries. At K9 Duke Storytime with Officer Cohen at Dorothy Alling Memorial Library in Williston, kids can read with or to a dog and get to know one of their town’s local police officers. The Pierson Library in Shelburne offers Little Ones Yoga on Saturdays, a great opportunity to try a new form of exercise and work on those moves!
The programs are generally open to residents and non-residents. So even if your own town’s library doesn’t have something that works for you, you can probably find an appealing program in the nearby town.
Take-Away STEAM Kits
While I’m used to bringing books home to the library, I recently heard about the STEAM kits available at checkout. STEAM stands for science, technology, engineering, art and mathematics, and according to the staff of Richmond Free Library, these kits help young learners acquire introductory knowledge and basic skills in different subjects. Themes include Instant Circuits, Ocean Wonder Kits, Magna-Tiles, and Board Games. STEAM kits are available for a variety of ages, from preschoolers to teens. You can find them at many libraries, including the Fletcher Free Library in Burlington, the Richmond Free Library, and Brownell Libraryy at Essex Junction.
Sometimes a child just wants to play. And what better way to mix things up than a change of scenery? Fortunately, many libraries offer dedicated spaces for children to explore and interact with friends. Most of these spaces are open whenever the library is open, making it easy to stop by whenever you have a spare hour.
Some of our favorite activities we have found for children up to 5 years old are sensory bins, arts and crafts projects, puzzles, large manipulatives (think blocks), figurines, dollhouses and coloring materials. We recommend that you check out the offerings from the Dorothy Alling Memorial Library, South Burlington Public Library, Stowe Free Library and the Fletcher Free Library.
IT and electronics
OK, so maybe electronics isn’t your favorite thing for toddlers, but libraries often offer developmentally appropriate tech toys for young children. At the South Burlington Public Library, for example, children can choose from several games or stories that allow them to read or sing along with cartoon characters. Themes include shapes, numbers and classic nursery rhymes. It’s a healthy option that lets toddlers experiment with technology without letting them jump on the internet and start exploring.
Resources and online courses
Speaking of electronics, I recently learned that many libraries also offer online programs that students can access from home. A quick read of Fletcher’s Free Library website shows programs such as PBS Kids and ECHO At-Home Learning, as well as platforms offering e-books and games. These options are ideal for rainy or snowy days or to supplement your child’s learning. My kids enjoyed a game or two with Daniel Tiger, a PBS character who teaches love and kindness. It’s a great free option that’s definitely better than paying for another expensive subscription.
Walk of stories
It was during one of our many long walks during the height of the pandemic that we discovered our neighborhood StoryWalk. Along the side of a rail trail, we found a forest path where children could follow a series of signposts, each containing a page from a storybook. We especially liked that the panels were displayed at toddler height for easy access.
Passes for attractions and museums
Want to take a trip to a local museum or national park? Before you go, check with your local library to see if they have free passes to your desired destination. Many offer free or discounted passes to places such as Shelburne Farms, Rokeby Museum in Ferrisburg, Billings Farm and Museum at Woodstock and some state parks.