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Kids and Families Meet their Neighbors at CPL

What do children learn at the Library’s Early Learning Centers? Reading, writing, singing, talking, playing, and making friends!

Coming out of his shell
Little Eli started visiting the Library at one. “Eli was a shy baby. He preferred when it was just the two of us reading or playing with his trucks in a quiet corner of Thomas Hughes,” Yanina recalls. “When we first attended Baby Time, Eli tucked himself under my arms. He simply sat there, observing as other kids interacted with one another,” she continues.

Now, at two years and six months, Eli can speak in full sentences (“I want to go to the Library!” he says repeatedly) and has grown more independent. “He can go to the stacks and pick up the big picture books all on his own,” Yanina shares proudly.

But the most profound change Yanina observed is Eli’s personality. Far from a  reserved infant, Eli is growing up to be a boisterous and friendly toddler. “The Library played a huge role in my son’s transformation,” she explains.

“We come here three times a week to read, play, and go to storytime. I believe that participating in organized group activities and being in a space where he can interact with other children helped Eli overcome his shyness.”

As if to illustrate his mom’s point, Eli gets up to meet another young boy to say hello. Together, they run to Obie’s food truck and start cooking.

Playing well with others as a pre-literacy skill

Early Learning Play Centers across the different branches are designed to prepare Chicago’s children for kindergarten. Ingrained in the program are the five pillars of early literacy: talk, sing, read, write, and play. “Play is a powerful catalyst for learning among children,” says Lori Frumkin, CPL’s Children and Family Services manager.

“It is through play that children learn how to negotiate, problem solve, take turns, and share— all of which are critical as they start school.”

Indeed, the social skills Eli learned at CPL’s Early Learning Center prepared him for daycare. “Eli’s teachers tell me that he plays well with others, and he’s really good with sharing. He learned these values from the Library,” Yanina beams.

The majority of parents agree.

In a recent survey, 60% of parents and caregivers reported that their children learned to socialize in the Library.

Fellow caregivers turned friends

The bond at the Library’s Early Learning Center extends beyond our little patrons. Parents and caregivers have also formed a tight-knit community. Alejandra started going to the Library five years ago when her daughter, Lou, was six months old. “I was a first-time mother, and I had no family in Chicago. The parents I have met during Storytime have been helpful in giving advice and listening to my anxieties,” she recalls.

“Most of the parents I met at the Library have become my best friends. We arrange play-study dates. We scout for kindergarten schools together. We even celebrate holidays as an extended family.”

Lou now studies in preschool with her best friend Annie, a playmate from the Library. Alejandra and Annie’s mom would pick up the girls and then head to Harold Washington Library Center together. “The Library is a place of security for Lou and I— the familiarity of the space, the activities, and the people. With the many changes our family has experienced lately, from starting school to having a new baby, it is comforting to know that the Library will always be there,” Alejandra shares.

CPL’s Early Learning Centers encourage children to follow their curiosity and empower parents to be their children’s first and best teacher through customized guidance, book recommendations, and fun programs that nurture young learners’ brain development and pre-literacy skills. This program is made possible by The Barker Welfare Foundation, The Brinson Foundation, Wells Fargo, The Peninsula Chicago Hotel, and generous donors to the Chicago Public Library Foundation.

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