Sunday, April 30, 2017

Children Can Set-Up their Own Library

Mission: Excellence in Education
By Rebeca Olagaray

A library, set up by the children themselves, is an example of a real-life project that which will reap many benefits for your students. It gives children the opportunity to develop and practice skills and competences for life, such as organizing concepts and ideas, decision taking, being task oriented as opposed to ego oriented, team work with all the skills involved, social skills, communication skills, leadership, promoting understanding, self-esteem and self-image, and empathy, just to name a few.

Carrying out such a task will enrich all other learnings by relating them to a real life project. They will have many opportunities while undergoing the project to apply basic math, language, science, and social skills acquired through systematic instruction, as well as an overall view of human activity and knowledge throughout history. Setting up a classroom library is always valuable for children’s learning, and it is helpful for curriculum requirements by visiting it regularly once it is completed.
Organizing and setting up a school or classroom library with the children, isn’t as wild, tough, overwhelming, and time consuming as it may sound. The strategy to follow will determine the planning of the overall project through a topic web –in this case a library web. This plan may be extended over several months. The first thing to be done is to weigh some previous considerations.
If there are resources for the project and up to what extent –basically bookshelves, books, and a room or corner. Of course resources will in the end dictate the scope and peculiar characteristics of the library: school resources, classroom resources, teachers’ resources, parents’ resources, and even children’s resourcefulness, will play a roll towards the final outcome of the project.
The children’s interests. If your kids have not been lucky enough to be exposed to reading, or may not have had the experience of a good attitude towards books, you may have to begin with some extensive previous work in this field. For example: organizing a moving library that goes to their home and back to school, systematic visits to the school library or city library, organizing a trip to the bookstore, donation of books to be shared;  in short: exposure to joyful reading .
Children’s age. Differences between younger and older students are particularly in the line of the areas of understandings and skills. Topic webs when organizing the project will vary in complexity, reflecting more advanced understanding with older children. Also, for the very small children, classifying books will have to begin with two types (for example, stories and maths), broadening their understanding and introducing them little by little to the existing variety of different text types.
This project is a task you can set forth on at any level, only its scope and size may vary. Some of the activities that can be undertaken, depending on the needs of your curriculum, and on prior discussion with the class, are:
  • Building bookshelves. This can be a good opportunity to develop creativity and problem solving skills, as well as social competences (from “being competent”), like team-work, respectfulness, listening to other people’s ideas, effectively communicating suggestions or personal ideas.
  • In the case of a classroom library that takes some books from the school library, the selection of a number of books that will cover their entertainment and consulting needs.
  • Classifying books, first, into literary and information types, and then, into further classification that considers literary genres, and the different areas of knowledge, like scientific and social sciences.
  • Very surely, some other text types will pop-up, such as magazines, advertising, articles and essays, programs of events, instructions to grow a flower from a seed, and so on …even doctors’ prescriptions! They can also classify these other text types and find out their place in human culture –as well as in their library, since it isn’t practical to mix them with the books.
  • Field work. Visiting other libraries to see how they are organized and function, and taking notes of their findings for further class discussion and raising new questions to be investigated and/or to make decisions about their own library.
  • Writing down the library rules and regulations, and making posters and flyers to make them known. They can do this by themselves. If the children don’t know how to write yet, they can “write” their rules with drawings or simply dictate them to the teacher. But it is recommendable that there is a child that plays the role of facilitator to establish the rules. And, depending on the children’s ages, school curriculum, and time, they can get to learn computer skills making the design of their flyers with programs like “Paint” or “Photoshop”.
  • Making an inventory of the books in the library. Here they can learn to use the computer program “Excel”, or to make tables with the more basic “Word” program. They will learn things like title, author, illustrator, genre, publishing house and date. Also to set a code for the book for its place on the library shelves.
  • Organization and improvement of a book lending system.
  • Establishing and distributing responsibilities and the different roles to be played by the children in order to keep the library working well.
  • Evaluation of each one of the activities, which will lead to further investigation, organization, and some decision taking.   

Of course, this is a just an example of possible activities to be undertaken. You and your children will decide your own. And the best way to do it is by making an initial topic web that will be followed by particular topic webs once you have all decided where to begin.

For example, I imagine that, in the construction of the initial topic web “classroom library”, preschoolers may have such an outcome as:
Classroom Library.jpg

Whereas primary children may have this other outcome:

As the setting-up of the library progresses, it is important that the children enjoy reading also. Regardless of their reading skills level, it is always recommended to let them have free reading time in which the teacher only observes and documents their interests, the way they engage in the activity, how much a sharing experience it is or if the child prefers to read alone –as well as the child’s interaction with the book, its content and the knowledge acquired. During this free reading time, the teacher can participate with the children if asked to, but must always have an active role in motivating them to realize they can discover the world in books, helping them to acquire the habit of using the library for multiple purposes, and, of course, showing them how to take care of the books, how to hold them, how to turn pages, and placing them back on the shelves. Free reading time is a meaningful and wonderful experience with happy and very rewarding results, even if they don’t show it at the time. In time, you will be able to see and enjoy their development as skilled readers –knowing where to find things, relating their findings in books to other subjects or school learning, as well as the knowledge they have been exposed to in other life activities. In short; gaining independence and self-management by acquiring knowledge and exploration of reality at all levels at school, at home, in their community, and the world as a whole.


Setting-up a library with your kids... yes, it may be time-consuming, but what a joyful and useful way to make it happen!
Rebeca Olagaray

April, 2017

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