by Karen D. Koch

Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in the Summer 2011 issue of The Parent Home Educator, the print magazine that was the predecessor to CHEA’s current digital e-newsletter, The CHEA Connection. As part of CHEA’s 40th Anniversary celebration, we are revisiting some articles that have stood the test of time that we feel would still be beneficial to home educators today.

Your local library has more than meets the eye.

Homeschoolers tend to use the public library more than other segments 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 rediscover this treasure trove.

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

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 (subtitle And Other Books Which Have Shaped Our World) by Terry W. Glaspey.

Library Savvy

In our home, weekly library visits began when my children were born. I remember trying to take my two-year-old and a newborn, colicky second child to story time, with disastrous results. But we persisted, and today all my children are fairly library savvy. Even my three-year-old 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 know the Iowa Test even contained a “reference” category until we received it, so I didn’t “teach to the test.” Instead it was their natural learning through library use.

In regular library visits, our children learn how to look for books and other materials (using computer skills to do so), how to explore an interest, how to check out items, put things on hold, request interlibrary loan materials, ask for assistance, 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 house at home to prevent loss. They also know how to do online search, holds, and renewals from home.

For most of elementary school, my kids’ main source of science curriculum were the books we could check out on everything from butterfly development, to planets, specific animals, tree identification, the weather cycle, and more. I’m still amazed at 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 resources 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…

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
  • Interlibrary 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 posted
  • 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)
  • 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)

About Karen

Karen D. Koch and her husband Monte have four children aged 14-26 and have been homeschooling for 21 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 served as CHEA’s Communications Manager until 2018.