WPL’s resources for early childhood education

The effectiveness of early childhood education in Ontario is a frequently contested topic among those who have children in what has become known, ominously, as ‘the system.’  

With numerous changes to the school system over the last ten years, many parents may feel as if the education system is proving to be too challenging (or not challenging enough) for their children.  

According to the Government of Ontario, the number of students enrolled in an English language school between the grades of junior kindergarten to grade 1 was 359,049. Considering this statistic, it is easy to estimate that the current education system will be unable to cater effectively to each child’s individual needs. 

One area, English, can be addressed by making use of community resources – such as the numerous programs and offerings provided by the Waterloo Public Library (WPL).  

Speaking with Kelly Kipfer, the Manager of Community Engagement & Children’s Services at the WPL, the extent of the library’s role in fostering the creative and literary minds of children was made apparent. By making use of this extensive community resource, parents can help to broaden the minds of their children in a way that the school system lacks.  

“We have a strategy in place for both early childhood, so 0 to 5 and for middle childhood – so 5 to 12. So, these are formalized strategies that we’ve come up with to create responsive and comprehensive programming and services and engagement with the community and strategic relationships with other organizations to best support kids at these different ages and stages,” Kipfer explained.  

One of these strategies is the Early Literacy Strategy – an award-winning strategy “in place where our whole organization looks at serving families with young children and what the library should be doing.” 

From this strategy came “Explore Play Learn”, a collection of “really easy, quick grab books that families can use knowing that they are not only great books to read out loud, but that they also help to support fundamental skills when it comes to developing early literacy,” Kipfer said. 

The Explore Play Learn collection bridges the gap between children and their parents, empowering parents to become an active agent in their child’s literacy development through active reading.  

Furthermore, the WPL, alongside the other libraries in the region, promotes 5 key practices to “build early literacy strategies. So, reading, writing, singing, copying and playing. Those are embedded in that collection, and then we have a suite of programs that we do that are targeted at age and stage 4 babies all the way up to seniors but in that early literacy strategy.”  

Alongside these practices, the WPL has a full slate of programs for the Fall.  

For middle childhood programming (ages 5-12), there is the “core literacy area.”:  

“Our goal as a library is to develop the multiple literacy needs of our community so we have some kind of core areas that we’d like to address … one of those is sort of community leadership and environmental stewardship, so we have programming happening around being involved in your community,” Kipfer said. 

With the planet warming at an increasingly rapid pace, programs like this are essential for the next generation who will bear the weight of the climate crisis. Further, other members of the child’s family can also be involved with the programming at the WPL. 

“We also like to do intergenerational programming,” Kipfer explained, detailing how a program centered on astronomy allows whole families to learn how a telescope works in a family friendly setting.  

Ultimately, Kipfer stressed that programs at the WPL “respond to needs that are either academic needs that we have, and we have partners that help us with reading buddies and  homework help.”  

Furthermore, there are “ lots of fun and creative programs with the emphasis really being on learning something new, finding yourself in community space and trying different things.” 

Interested in getting involved or supporting the library as a university student? Luckily, there are many opportunities to get involved at the WPL.  

“We’ve worked with sororities to actually do a lot of programs, special story times and things like that,” says Kipfer. 

In addition, through a partnership with Frontier College, the WPL has developed a program called ‘Number Ninjas.’ 

“Number Ninja, tutoring, homework help, reading buddies, that’s all university students, so they play a huge part in those kinds of things. We do some special events so we always welcome the support of volunteers to help with those events.”  

For support, getting a library card is crucial, as well as spreading the word about the library’s resources and taking part in community consultations. 

“We will be doing community consultations shortly about our new strategic plan and so having university input on that is very useful.” 

Moreover, Kipfer notes the WPL’s continued focus on reaching out to the university community to help them view the library as a safe space.  

“One of the things that’s really important to us is reaching the university community – so we have new students coming in all the time and we want them to feel like they’re part of the community.” 

Based on this, the WPL offers outreach programming for students. 

“We do special outreach activities like Waterloo Fest that is coming up on September 8 that’s in partnership with the City of Waterloo.” 

The WPL remains focused on providing an essential service to the community for all ages. In order for it to survive, the onus is on the community itself – university students volunteering and parents instilling a love for the library in their children. 

“Lots of people don’t realize that you can read to kids before they’re even born so they can hear their voice – so we try to really emphasize making reading and visiting the library part of your daily habit,.” Kipfer stressed.  

Any type of reading is better than no reading. From riveting fictional dramas to graphic novels, any type of book that gets children reading in a world polluted with technology should be fostered. 

By connecting to the library, children will learn to seek and use its resources – ensuring its continued survival. 

The essential “connection to a community resource that’s about lifelong learning and about exploring passions and about you know – not just being on a screen”, says Kipfer, will make the library a “pleasurable, intergenerational kind of experience”. 

Interested in any of the WPL’s programming and resources? Looking to get a library card? All information can be found on their website.

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