Public Libraries and 4K Programs: Partners in Learning

by Marcia Sarnowski

According to the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction, 80% of Wisconsin school districts now offer 4K (four-year-old kindergarten) programs.   Each of our library communities in the WRLS area is connected to a school district which offers 4K – a total of 32.  Two of the programs are new this academic year.

For many librarians who have welcomed children ages 3-5 into the library for preschool storytimes, the proliferation of 4K programs throughout the state has meant fewer children are coming to these traditional events; program attendance figures and circulation of children’s materials may be down.  And most of all, you miss those smiles and joyful voices!

Here are some suggestions for adapting to this revision in your community’s routine:

  • Learn about the 4K program:  does it last all day?  Is your school district’s program connected with Family Resource and/or Head Start programs, or child care at the school?  Who are the staff people working with the children and families?  Do you know them?  Do they know you – and the library?
  • Are the children brought to school on buses, or are parents responsible for bringing them and picking them up?  If the parents are transporting them, they may be able to bring the children to the library after their school activities, for a short program that fits into the travel schedule (e.g. late morning, pre-lunch).
  • The school district’s Child Development Days may be more important than ever as the librarian’s opportunity to see and be seen by the families of young children in the area.  If you can’t spend time at a booth or a table at the screening site, arrange to drop off some library printed material.  Make sure it includes the library’s address, phone number, web site url, and hours open.  Create a business card or bookmark with the information, or print some labels you can attach to purchased library-themed bookmarks – something parents can scoop up as they visit the various screening stations.
  • Consider taking your show on the road.  Contact the 4K staff to ask if you can come in and do an occasional library storytime for the kids at school.  (Remember the WRLS storybags, they are a handy start for a themed program.)  Record the attendance figures and include descriptions of the programs in reports to the library board.
  • Develop a family storytime schedule for the early evening, and/or design some weekend activities so the fours can come with their younger and older siblings.

It can be tempting to think of the schools as being in competition with the library for families’ time and community resources.  The reality is that this trend of 4K is here to stay, and the community’s efforts should be united toward the goal of supporting early childhood education.

Libraries are important members of this readiness team.  As with other community issues, they should be at the table, asking, “How can we help young children prepare to become readers and learners?”

Here are some links to more information about early childhood and Wisconsin 4K programs:  http://dpi.wi.gov/ec/index.html

This is a very nice set of tips for parents on reading with children, from the Minnesota Humanities Center, available in several languages, including Spanish and Hmong: http://minnesotahumanities.org/resources/tips

(from March 2010)

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