By Anna Jauhola
Every three weeks, 4-year-old preschoolers at Lancaster School visit the school library and bring home a newly devised bookbag.
Librarian Becky Rice implemented the program last year after learning preschoolers had no exposure to the library.
“When I came here last year, I was excited the school was preschool through 12th grade,” Rice said. “When I took over the library, I learned the preschool wasn’t represented up here. The first time they had the opportunity to come to the library is in kindergarten.”
Rice was a preschool teacher for 18 years before she came to Lancaster School, so she knew the earlier kids are exposed to reading and visiting a library the more excited they’d be about it.
So began the brainstorming and how she could include preschoolers in the library.
After she saw a display at Kohls, which was a stuffed animal with a matching book, the lightbulb turned on.
“What kid doesn’t love a stuffy that brings a book to life?” Rice said. “Then I really wanted to create a home-to-school connection with open-ended play between parents and children, and an activity sheet. I really wanted to create an entire packet that would really bring that book to life.”
Enter the idea of a bookbag and the need for community support. Rice appealed to the Lancaster district for donations to help start the program and the response was overwhelmingly positive.
The donations allowed Rice to purchase 18 bags each containing a different book and stuffed animal or toy, directions for an open-ended activity and an activity sheet. The clear plastic backpacks line the top shelf on the south wall of the library.
Not only do the bookbags help create a better connection between parents and children, the bags help create a sense of responsibility and pride in each student.
“They look forward to coming up to the library,” said Denise Strege, a paraprofessional in the preschool classroom. “This is a big excitement for them. They’re able to pick out books and it gives them a sense of independence. And I’ve heard good feedback from the parents.”
Rice said the 4-year-olds have all learned the rules and have been very careful with the bags and their contents.
While visiting the library for a picture last week, three preschoolers told the Enterprise some of those rules.
“We don’t give (the books) a bath,” Briar Bernstrom said.
“We don’t let our dogs play with (the bookbags),” Eli Langehaug said.
“We don’t rip them,” Sam Hanson said.
Rice is happy to see the kids learning from the experience so quickly and also gaining the pride in knowing they’re capable of caring for items that don’t belong to them. At the beginning of the school year, parents sign permission slips acknowledging their preschoolers will have these bags and are responsible if something should happen to one in their possession. So far, only one bag has gone missing. The kids take the responsibility pretty seriously, Rice said.
Literacy, of course, is Rice’s main goal with the bookbag program. She said the earlier kids learn how to read and love reading, the better off they’ll be in life.
“I knew we were onto something when older students in third and fourth grade asked to take a backpack,” Rice said. “I think people are pretty excited about it.”
As the program grows, she hopes the earlier inclusion in visiting the library will create excitement to continue visiting.
“As someone with a passion for books, I think it’s so important for them to come up here and understand the Dewey Decimal System, the rules of the library, where to find things,” Rice said. “The kindergartners this year who were the first to take part in the bookbag program, you should have seen their faces the first day they got to come up and just pick a book. They were so excited. That was the next step for them.”
Rice wants to expand the program again soon to include the 3-year-old preschoolers and hopes the community will be just as generous to help fund more bookbags.
By Anna Jauhola