by Karen D. Koch

Your local library has more than meets the eye. (Our local library even had a fun Star Wars-themed day a few years ago–see photo)

Homeschoolers tend to use the public library more than any other segment of the population, but there’s always more to learn about this great free resource center (ok, our taxes pay for it, but generally free). In tough economic times, library use also increases as people re-discover this treasure trove.Kodak Camera 2014 015

With 1186 public libraries in California alone (more if you count bookmobiles, etc.) most of us have a library close enough to take advantage of these services, at least occasionally (search for a public library using your nearest city name at

Obviously not all choices and programs at your library will be appropriate for your family (I recommend being wary of the young adult section which is in large part a wasteland of pop culture, in my opinion), but don’t throw out everything just because library acquisitions aren’t always what we would choose.

The Read-aloud Handbook by Jim Trelease has an extensive listing with summaries of good books to choose, but use discretion. Another useful resource is Great Books of the Christian Tradition: And Other Books Which Have Shaped Our World by Terry W. Glaspey.

Library Savvy
In the Koch house, weekly library visits began when my children were born. Years ago I remember trying to take my two-year-old son and a newborn, colicky second son to story time, with disastrous results. But we persisted, and today all my children are fairly library savvy. Even my three-year-old son can use the self checkout machine with help.Without much formal study or training, my three oldest all scored above the 90th percentile on the “reference” section of the Iowa Test of Basic Skills, in large part due to their extensive library experience. I didn’t even know the Iowa Test contained a “reference” category until we received it, so I didn’t “teach to the test.” Instead they learned naturally through regular library use.

In regular library visits, our children learn how to look for books and other materials (using computer skills to do so), to explore an interest, to check out items, to put things on hold, to request inter-library loan materials, to ask for assistance, to return items, and most importantly, to find the information they need. They are also busy learning discretion in what materials to choose, with parental help. I like to strategically choose extra items my kids often end up reading at home.

Their Own Library Card
In our home, when our kids officially “start” school around age five, they get their own library cards, complete with photos, pomp, and circumstance. At our library, kids can “read off” their fines, so they also learn responsibility for returning materials on time, paying fines, or reading off these fines. We keep materials all on the “library shelf” in our home to prevent loss. They also know how to do online searches, holds, and renewals from home.

For most of elementary school, my kids’ main source of science curriculum was the books we could check out subjects from butterfly development to planets, specific animals, tree identification, the weather cycle, and more. I’m still amazed by how much they learned this way.

As the kids get older and use higher level curriculum at home, they can still supplement at the library. We recently read aloud Carry on Mr. Bowditch, so one son went online to see if the library has a copy of the American Practical Navigator. It does.

Helpful Librarians
Librarians are very resource oriented and are particularly helpful people. Some of the best items we have found have been through their help (including some statistics for this article). Make sure your children know that librarians are very knowledgeable, eager to help, and available. We have befriended our local librarians, and my kids take turns attending Library Advisory Board meetings with me.

We try to avoid the busy after-school hours and keep our visits to 30-45 minutes, usually going with a list of what we’re looking for as a starting place. Libraries are public places, of course, and visiting them can be a good opportunity for kids to remember that safety lessons apply everywhere.

Enjoy your local library. So many books, so little time. . .

Editor’s note: If you are interested in California library statistics, you can read a 140-page statewide report (2010) of all things library-related at

Abundant Library Resources
Here are some of the great resources your local library might have:

  • Homeschool magazines and teaching aids (our library subscribed to a homeschool magazine at my request)
  • Preschool story times
  • Inter-library loan, usually free or with a small fee
  • Databases such as (helped our family tree search)
  • Children’s author speaking engagements
  • Children’s summer reading programs (often with book prizes)
  • Community events information
  • Tax forms
  • Music of all kinds (use discretion)
  • Old movies (one summer we watched classic musicals)
  • Music (classical, Christian, folk songs, other cultures)
  • Newspapers/magazines (use discretion)
  • Meeting or study rooms available
  • Computer access (always use discretion and monitor use)
  • Volunteer opportunities–tutoring, literacy
  • Online magazine for students–place to submit written work (one son submitted a review of Do Hard Things by Alex and Brett Harris that he found at our library)
  • Test preparation books (CLEP, AP, PSAT and much more)
  • Other useful databases – libraries subscribe to these so you don’t have to. Ask for a list.

Library Scavenger Hunt
A suggested list for a fun library scavenger hunt appears below. Adapt this depending on the age and ability of your children–possibly just two or three items for the littlest. Give them each a clipboard a pencil and questions with blanks to fill in. Make sure they don’t leave a mess behind as they search. Asking for librarian or parent help is absolutely encouraged when they are stuck. Try to vary the questions enough to give them a broad scope of all the library offers.

  • What is the definition of “fenestral”? (dictionary)
  • What is the capital of Vietnam? (atlas)
  • Find a book to help prepare for the US Citizenship exam (test prep)
  • Find a children’s magazine (magazine or children’s section)
  • Find a book by C.S. Lewis (author search)
  • Find a book about the California Missions (non-fiction, history)
  • Find a CD with Bach music (music section)
  • What is the name of a newspaper the library carries? (newspaper section)
  • Find a recipe for pumpkin soup (cookbooks)
  • Find a book with “horse” in the title (title search)
  • Find a biography about Helen Keller (biography, subject search)
  • Find a book on making pottery/stained glass/crafts (keyword or subject search)
  • Find a book written in a foreign language (specific language search)
  • Find a book on how to do origami (craft section)
  • Find a book about your hometown (keyword search, subject)

Karen D. Koch and her husband Monte have four children ages 8-20 and have been homeschooling for 15 years. Karen served on her county Library Advisory Board and has kept lists of all the books she has read since 1984 (yes, nerdy, she knows). Karen serves as CHEA’s Communications Assistant. This article originally appeared in 2011 in the California Parent Educator.