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A family visit to the public library: enjoyable and educational

PARENTS and educators agree on the importance of reading to children. Children who are read to develop positive attitudes toward books. They learn to turn to books for information, ideas, and recreation. Books become their friends.

The same can be said of libraries. Children who feel at home in the library become adolescents eager to use the library for research and adults who find both information and pleasure inside the library doors.

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Parents may be surprised to discover the variety of services provided by their public library. Many libraries have a separate children's library with books, media equipment, toys, and games.

In planning a program for you and your child, consider the following:

* Ask your librarian about special programs for children. Most public libraries offer regular story hours where librarians read a picture book aloud and teach songs, finger plays, and rhythm activities to young children. Film series are often presented as well. Ask whether it is necessary to sign up for the entire session or if you can just drop in.

* Have a regular time to take your child to the library. Busy parents often have no time for unscheduled activities. When library visits become part of a routine, it's easier to follow through on good intentions. Some parents like to schedule a weekly or monthly library visit - every Monday morning from 9 to 10, say, or the first Wednesday afternoon of each month.

* Make use of nonprint materials for children. Your library may have a toy-lending library or puzzle collection. Filmstrips and records are usually available. Some libraries even offer videotapes and computer software. If your library has puzzles, have your child select a different one each week. Intersperse games or filmstrips.

* Designate a specific spot in your home as the place for library materials. This might be a shelf in the living room, a low kitchen drawer, or a plastic dishpan in your child's room. Trips to the library start off on a pleasant note when books to be returned are easily located. A special place for books can avoid time wasted in searching the house, as well as fines for overdue books. Children also learn important organizational skills.

* Plan family outings to the library to read magazines. Most public libraries have extensive periodical collections. Parents can sit in the reading room as children sit nearby looking at their own magazines or books. These pleasant family outings allow parents to show children that the library is important to them, too.

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* Keep mental or written lists of your children's unanswered questions. Look up the answers with the children during library visits. Use the card catalog, explaining to the children what you are doing. Familiarity with the card catalog helps children to feel comfortable about using it when they are old enough.

* Check out an art print each month. Encourage your child to help with the selection. Have a spot in the house where the print hangs. Read up on the artist and share your knowledge over dinner. Some libraries even have sculpture collections.

* Set aside special family times for reading library books aloud. Vary the reading to accommodate the entire family. Older children may be surprised to rediscover the beautiful stories and artwork found in many children's picture books. Young children can usually sit still for readings from longer books like ''Charlotte's Web,'' but sessions need to be short enough to keep the experience pleasurable.

* Get to know your librarian. Use him or her as a resource, and teach your children to do the same.

When parents share their own enjoyment of their public library, children look forward to library visits and develop their own love of this repository of knowledge.

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