Providence Public Library is unusual in the number of high-quality programs it offers to local youth and their families. We were impressed that the library has made strides in furthering literacy among the very young, imparting STEM skills, and even offering employment experience to teens and young adults. As such, we were happy to support this important community resource with one of our small grants.
We spoke to Early Childhood Services Coordinator and Librarian Anne Kilkenny to find out more about the incredible work of the Providence Public Library:
Kars4Kids: You have a story time for infants. Can you tell us about this program and how it benefits the community and the children?
Anne Kilkenny: Our infant program focuses on children ages birth to 18 months and their caregivers. It provides developmentally appropriate early literacy experiences including reading books aloud, singing, rhyming, puppets, and simple games. Caregivers are provided with song lists, activity ideas and early literacy tips to use at home but, most importantly, they are also provided the time and space to connect with their child and to connect with other caregivers from the community. These connections reach beyond the walls of the library, supporting these families as they navigate the new experiences of parenting, becoming part of our community and even learning to speak English!
Kars4Kids: What is the usual turnout for Cradle to Crayons? Can you describe a typical session?
Anne Kilkenny: Our maximum group size for a Cradle to Crayons session is 12-15 children and their caregiver. We keep the groups small to maximize the benefits of the experience for all involved. We provide developmentally appropriate play activities for children, including sensory, art, science and pretend play. Caregivers are encouraged to participate and usually receive a take home activity or recipe based on something we are doing that day. After about 40 minutes, we clean up and have stories and songs. We structure this time lots of songs, which add structure, and two stories interspersed with movement of some kind. The whole program takes about an hour.
Kars4Kids: We were impressed with the Family Literacy Bags as shown on the Providence Public Library website. Can you tell our readers about them? Are these kits popular? How many of them have you made available to members?
Anne Kilkenny: These kits were developed with funding from the RI Department of Education to provide families with access to high quality, developmentally appropriate books and activities. They are aligned with the RI Early Learning and Development Standards which utilize 9 domains to outline what children should know and be able to do when they enter kindergarten. These standards span birth to age 5.
We have 27 kits in total – an infant, a toddler and a preschool kit for each of the 9 domains. They circulate like a book, for 3 weeks, and can be put on hold and sent to any library in the state. Each one contains at least 2 children’s picture books, bilingual if available, a parent resource book, and an activity related to the learning domain. There is also a family journal in which families can share their comments on their experience with the kit. We have steady use and hope to continue to grow their popularity.
Kars4Kids: The Learning and Reading Kits (LARKs) available to educators, must be a step beyond the Family Literacy Bags, we imagine. Can you describe them for us?
Anne Kilkenny: LARKs came first and, yes, they are a step beyond. There are 175 different theme-based kits, some bilingual and some for toddlers but most designed for preschoolers. Each one contains 10-12 picture books, music or educational DVD, and many activities such as puppets, puzzles, manipulatives and pretend play props. Teachers have a curriculum unit in a box, aligned with the RI Early Learning and Development Standards. They can be sent anywhere in the state and provide access to high quality materials at no cost to the teacher.
Kars4Kids: How many kids enroll in your summer learning program? Do kids earn some sort of certificate for participation?
Anne Kilkenny: Our premiere summer learning initiative is the Passport to Summer learning which is distributed to all 11,000 Providence public school students in grades K-5 in June each year. This Passport is a reading tracker on one side, which encourages children to complete their summer reading of 20 minutes a day for 40 days, and, on the other side, a summary of cultural and historic sites and organizations in Providence for the children to visit with their families, thereby encouraging them to remain active and engaged throughout the summer months.
Children receive a certificate and a small prize (this year a pencil case with school supplies) for returning their Passport to school in the fall. The 3 schools with the highest rate of return are awarded a school – wide assembly of their choice and the faculty are provided with a breakfast. Those students who read all 80 days of the summer, record their book titles and check in at one of the public libraries in the city, are Top Readers and they receive a mayoral citation, passes to the Roger Williams Park Zoo and to the Alex and Ani skating rink.
Kars4Kids: What kind of projects do the children work on in the PVD Young Makers program?
Anne Kilkenny: PVD Makers is designed to provide students with 21st century skills—collaboration, communication, problem solving—in an environment that teaches design thinking through the use of coaches and mentors. Projects are student-driven and can range from no-tech creations to high tech wearable electronic shoes. Our makerspace has a laser cutter, 3D printer, vinyl cutter, sewing machine, Dash robots, paper circuitry, Makey Makeys, and computers. These tools and the talented coaches and mentors are all available to the students at no cost through the public libraries.
Kars4Kids: How many kids are in your coding program? Why have you made coding a part of your teenage programming at the library?
Anne Kilkenny: Research shows that there is a huge need for employees who can write code and analyze data in different ways. The teen programs grew out of our adult coding programs and are providing pathways for students to receive college credits, internships, and employment.
Kars4Kids: My City, My Place prepares kids for the workplace by providing work experience and a way to interact with different professions and professionals. Have any of the work placements led to more long-term employment?
Anne Kilkenny: The teens receive a stipend for participating in this summer learning opportunity. These teens are still in middle school so long term employment is still a way off. Some have continued to intern at various libraries around the city.
Kars4Kids: What’s next for Providence Public Library?
Anne Kilkenny: We are currently undergoing a major renovation and are due to reopen fully in spring 2020. Our updated spaces will allow us to deliver services in new and innovative ways, better meeting the needs of 21st century learners, researchers and readers.