After the Internet, the local library is probably the homeschooling family's greatest resource. Sure, they've got storybooks and reference materials. But today even tiny neighborhood libraries are often tied into larger library systems, giving you access to the entire collection. That's not to mention all the digital and online content available to borrowers. And it's all for free!
When we moved to our small town I made sure to become friends with the staff of our local library. They helped me find materials I didn't even realize could be borrowed by just about anyone with a library card. And knowing that we homeschool, librarians sometimes let us keep educational material beyond the normal lending period, too.
Are you taking advantage of everything your library has to offer? Here are just a few of the things homeschoolers love about libraries:
Videos, Audiobooks, Music, and Games
Classes and WorkshopsComputer game design, gingerbread house building, and recorder playing are just some of the classes my kids have taken at local libraries over the years. As an enrichment teacher I've also offered workshops on multicultural crafts, simple robotics projects and more. While most programs for school-age children are offered during afterschool hours, you can always ask about bringing children to programs for the general public during the day as well.
Professional Journals and College Library MaterialWhen I needed an obscure (and expensive) book for a project I was working on, I was surprised to discover that my library could order it for me from a local college library. Interlibrary loans between the public library and high schools or colleges may be a little more complicated than other types of loans, but a good reference librarian can help you find what you need. Libraries also subscribe to periodicals including professional journals that you can often access online.
Museum PassesThis is one perk I wish my own library system offered: Some libraries have passes you can borrow for admission to nearby museums and attractions. For instance, in Minneapolis the Museum Adventure Pass gives library patrons free admissions to 20 area museums, galleries, zoos and historic sites. Think of the money you could save with this one!
Computers and DevicesIf you don't have a computer or Internet access at home, the library computer center is the place to go. But some libraries are also beginning to lend out computers and other devices to take home with you. Playaways are mp3 players pre-loaded with audiobooks; all you need is a set of earphones. And many libraries will let you borrow iPads, Nooks, and other computer readers and tablets.
Science, Tools and Maker Spaces
Afterschool science programs and even science centers for kids are another area that many libraries are starting to embrace. I have visited several with my robotics workshops, in places like the Children's Discovery Center in Queens, NY. But the real buzz is about libraries becoming the place where people can go to use high-tech toys like 3D printers. Some have started to create their own so-called hackerspaces . The Fayetteville Free Library in upstate New York already owns a printer and is building a "Fabulous Laboratory" that will contain other high-end computer-controlled power tools. At the Detroit Public Library's HYPE Makerspace, teens can drop by to learn bike repair, crafting, sewing and even robotics.
Activities Just for Homeschoolers
The library can also be a home for homeschoolers. Along with our yearly Homeschooling Information Night, my local homeschool support group has booked meeting rooms at the local library for parent-taught classes on everything from drawing to Lego Robotics to conversational French. For many years it was also the site of weekly Indoor Games Days, where tweens and teens could get together for board games and other library-appropriate activities they organized themselves.
Some libraries also offer their own programming for local homeschoolers, such as spelling bees or art shows. And this is the place to look for homeschooling how-to books, as well as other books on parenting and education. If there aren't homeschool-specific programs or collections at your local library, ask them about setting some up. Libraries are always looking for new ways to serve the public, and homeschoolers are some of their most loyal customers!
When a subject comes up in conversation or reading that I'd like us to learn more about, I dash to the computer to see what resources our library system has available. Then I reserve them on the spot, and within two or three days they arrive at our local library, ready to be picked up. Couldn't be easier!