Libraries and museums can engage, teach and delight children. But too often these institutions are not part of the policy conversation about early education.
A new report – “Growing Young Minds: How Museums and Libraries Create Lifelong Learners” – calls for tapping and investing in more of the strengths and knowledge of these vibrant institutions.
“Libraries and museums can play a stronger role in early learning for all children,” the report says. “As our nation commits to early learning as a national priority essential to our economic and civic future, it is time to become more intentional about deploying these vital community resources to this challenge.”
The report comes from the Institute of Museum and Library Services and the Campaign for Grade-Level Reading.
The nation’s 123,000 libraries and 17,500 museums have 10 key strengths, according to the report, among them:
- Museums and libraries provide high-quality, easily accessed early education programs that engage and support parents in being their children’s first teachers.
- Visitors find literacy and STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) programs that help children develop executive function and learning skills.
- Museum and library programs can add capacity to early learning providers.
- Comprehensive programs provide families with information about health and nutrition as well as offering physical activities.
The report also calls on various stakeholders to take action. For example:
- Federal policy makers can leverage grants that help museums and libraries become even stronger partners.
- State policymakers can include museums and libraries in the effort to increase access to early education programs.
- Schools, school districts and early education programs can “offer joint professional development to teachers and museum and library staff to create a common understanding of standards, curricula and instructional practices in schools and the available resources at museums and libraries.”
Another champion of library partnerships is Harvard Graduate School of Education professor Nonie Lesaux. In her report “Turning the Page: Refocusing Massachusetts for Reading Success,” she emphasizes that in the state’s efforts to raise strong readers and raise awareness about ways to promote children’s literacy, “we cannot overlook the potential impact of the community library.”
“With the goal of meeting educational standards and enriching units of study,” Lesaux writes that libraries should “consider programming in partnership with early education and care settings, and also with schools.” She also calls on libraries to reflect the cultural diversity of their communities through “bilingual staffing, programming, signage and materials” so that they can more effectively promote family literacy.
In Massachusetts, many of these efforts are underway. The Growing Young Minds report highlights the Boston Children’s Museum. “The museum’s leadership in Boston’s early learning community has led to its major role in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts’ Race to the Top — Early Learning Challenge Grant. The Commonwealth’s Department of Early Education and Care (EEC) engaged the museum as a core partner in its family engagement and school readiness activities.”
As the department explains, “This work focuses on facilitating linkages for families to these opportunities and deepening museums’ and libraries’ capacity around four core areas: STEM, kindergarten readiness and school success, child development, with specific focus on the research behind the ‘Brain Building in Progress’ campaign, and evidence-based literacy.”
EEC also has Early Childhood Resource Centers located in five public libraries across the state.
While libraries and museums serve millions of families a year, the challenge is always to reach more, especially children who have fewer resources at home.
As Ralph Smith explains in a press release “We know that we won’t close achievement gaps, reduce dropout rates or compete in the 21st century economy until more of our children are reading proficiently by the end of third grade.” Smith is the managing director of the Grade Level Reading Campaign and a senior vice president at the Annie E. Casey Foundation. “But right now, more than 80 percent of students from low-income families don’t achieve that critical milestone. Libraries and museums are playing a vital role in reaching families and children with support that can help turn around this deeply troubling trend.”
“It is time now,” the report wisely concludes about museums and libraries, “to tap their enormous potential as key contributors to federal, state and community efforts to improve early learning outcomes, increase school readiness and ensure that all children are reading and succeeding at grade three and beyond.”
Tomorrow: Part II – the Boston Children’s Museum and the Springfield City Library