By Susan Hildreth
Did you know that we have more than 140,000 museums and libraries in this country? Oftentimes museums and libraries are overlooked when it comes to our nation’s efforts to turn around early learning. The early years are critical developmental years for school success. Yet too many children, especially those from low-income families, lack opportunities to build the language, cognitive, and social skills they need for a strong start in school. Libraries and museums reach millions of parents and children each year. As early learning becomes a national priority for government at all levels, for corporations, and for foundations, now is the time to engage these vital community resources.
On June 20 the Institute of Museum and Library Services, in partnership with the Campaign for Grade-Level Reading, launched the report, Growing Young Minds: How Museums and Libraries Create Lifelong Learners at the Anacostia branch of the DC Public Library. This report calls upon policymakers to look toward museums and libraries as part of the solution to kick start early learning. As the federal agency that provides grants to museums and libraries and a voice for those institutions at the federal level, we were delighted to have such wonderful support from the Campaign for the launch of the report. The vision for the campaign has led to more than $2.5 million in IMLS grants to libraries and museums in 2012 throughout the U.S. for great work to support early learning. The agency plans to announce additional grants in September.
A special thank you to Ralph Smith, the Campaign’s managing director; Roberto Rodriguez, special advisor to President Obama for education policy; Deb Delisle, assistant secretary for elementary and secondary education, U.S. Department of Education; and Richard Gonzales, senior advisor for early childhood development, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, for coming to Anacostia and showing your support for the report.
We are delighted to know that this report is being read in the White House and at the top levels of the federal government. As Roberto Rodriguez and Deb Delisle said, our nation’s libraries and museums play such a significant role in early learning for all of our children.
“They reach millions of children and parents each year as trusted, welcoming places where our families come together, where they make discoveries, where our children explore their interests, and connect their curiosity to a wider world. And at no point is that experience more important than in the early years,” said Rodriguez. “We have to continue to support our libraries and museums, bring children and parents together, and tap into the resources that these institutions offer.”
“If I have a voice at all I will always go out cross this country and tell superintendents and principals and teachers to read the report; use the strategies; figure out ways to engage students in very powerful ways, and never forget that parents are always looking for meaningful, interactions,” said Delisle.
This report shines a powerful spotlight on the capacity of libraries and museums to make a difference for young children. We want it to be read and used to stimulate great ideas and action to help children and their parents get the start they need.
Here are 10 ways libraries and museums can help:
- Increasing high-quality early learning experiences
- Engaging and supporting families as their children’s first teachers
- Supporting development of executive function and “deeper learning” skills through literacy and STEM-based experiences
- Creating seamless links across early learning and the early grades
- Positioning children for meeting expectations of the Common Core State Standard
- Addressing the summer slide
- Linking new digital technologies to learning
- Improving family health and nutrition
- Leveraging community partnerships
- Adding capacity to early learning networks