Your Local Public Library

OK, I’m veering a little from my usual format.  Have you noticed I’ve been doing that lately?  Anyway, if I had to give one piece of advice to a new homeschooler, it would be this:  get thee to your local public library.  Now.  Get a library card.  Get one for each of your kids.  Put a weekly trip to the library on your schedule.

If you aren’t a regular patron of your library, if the local librarians don’t know you and your kids by name, you are missing out on the biggest ally in your quest for knowledge.  There are a million ways that your library can be of use to you, but in the interest of time, here are the biggest:

* Books.

OK, so this one’s a little obvious.  But seriously, we may use a lot of online resources, but we use even more books.  Even if you are using a boxed curriculum that claims to have “everything you need”, you still need more books.  When we start a new unit, the first thing we do is go to the library and check out 10-15 books on the subject.  Actually, I usually get online a few days before that, browse through all the books available, and request the ones that look the best so they are waiting for us at our local branch.  Before you spend any money on a book, see if your library has it.  I know some people like to own certain books because they use them often, but I find that the nine-week maximum check out (3 weeks with two renewals) at our library is usually enough for anything we’re studying.

Just searching through the online catalog at the library can help you enrich a topic.  Studying astronomy?  Get books about the solar system, about how to make your own telescope, how to navigate by the stars; get biographies of Isaac Newton and Neil Armstrong; get a science fiction book about a colony on Mars; get some comic books about aliens; find a whole book of experiments to do.  It’s all there, and it’s all free.

* Documentaries.

Then, head on over to the DVD section.  Find documentaries and movies that tie in with your subject – things they don’t have at Redbox.

* Ebooks.

Sometimes, all it takes is adding something like a tablet to make a reluctant reader more interested.  Libraries now have ebooks to check out.  Even if you don’t have a tablet, you can download the software to your PC.  I usually prefer the good old paper version, but it can be very convenient if you’re going on a trip.

* Music.

Again, don’t buy something that you can borrow.  If you’re studying a foreign country or a certain era in history, you can check out a CD of Australian folk songs or music from the Baroque period to play in the background while you’re working on a project.

* Books on CD.

Audio books, either on CD or as an ebook are great for car trips.  Pick a story that will appeal to everyone and play it during that 8-hour car trip.

* Story Time.

Story time, puppet shows, sing alongs.  Check your library’s schedule for entertainment for any age.

* Clubs and Classes.

Most library systems offer book clubs and all kinds of other club meetings: knitting, writing, tai chi.  Many libraries also offer classes.  Pick up a calendar and find out what your library is offering.

* Arts and Music.

Our library often offers concert series, author talks and art exhibits.  See what yours has to offer.

* Free online access to educational websites.

Even as a seasoned library-user, I am still finding out about new resources.  For example, I knew that I can get free access to Mango Languages online, but I just started looking at all the other websites and services that we can get free through our library membership: encyclopedias, databases and all kinds of other sites that we would otherwise have to pay to join.

So, please, go to your library.  Get to know your librarians.  Go online, learn how to use your library’s catalog.  See what your library has to offer you.

Boy reading in the library