Caroline’s introduction to Chicago Public Library began at four months old. Now, at almost two years, she is a regular at CPL’s Early Learning center.
Wearing a fluffy pink dress and a red ribbon clip, Caroline plays with the letter board excitedly. When she sees a familiar face, she waves passionately. “She is very energetic. She just started to walk last month, and now she won’t sit still,” Jinsong, her grandmother, says proudly. Looking at the sprightly 20-month old run without a care in the world, it’s difficult to imagine that not so long ago, she was at the NICU. Caroline was born at 35 weeks. Following a series of birth complications, she had to stay at the hospital for 23 days. “But she is healthy now; it’s all that matters,” Grandma Jinsong shares happily.
Acutely aware of the effects of premature birth to a child’s development, Caroline’s grandmother decided to bring her to the library at four months old. “She loved it here the moment she picked up her first book,” Jinsong narrates. As if on cue, Caroline gestures for her grandmother to sit, with the little girl following suit. Together, they pick out a book. “She is still learning to talk, but she listens and understands,” Jinsong explains. True enough, Caroline points out the pictures as grandma reads. After finishing the story, Jinsong turns to me and says, “She learned to associate images and words at the library.” And when grandma asks, “Do you want to read some more?”, Caroline responds by drawing her fingers from each hand together, pointing them to one another, and tapping—American sign-language for “more.” “She learned that from here too,” Jinsong smiles.
One of Caroline’s favorite activities is Storytime. This much is evident as she hurriedly takes off her shoes to join a group of children in a circle. Caroline jumps and dances to all the songs. When it’s time to read, she sits on her grandmother’s lap and listens intently. When Ms. Andy asks “More?”, accompanied by the sign language action, Caroline and the rest of the students follow vigorously. Seeing the synchronized action of every child in the room, it suddenly clicks. Aside from singing and playing, children, especially young ones who are non-verbal, learn simple sign language to communicate.
Drawing on the five practices of early literacy (talk, sing, read, write, play), Chicago Public Library’s Early Learning is focused on providing resources that lead our young learners towards literacy success – a mission that extends beyond the stacks.
“I learn so much from Early Learning programs and activities,” Jinsong tells me. “The sign language helps me interact with her. The storytellers are extremely helpful in guiding us on how to best educate our (grand)children during this critical time of development. What I learn here, I share with Caroline’s parents, and we practice it at home,” she continues. Such seamless and continuous approach to early education is at the heart of the Library’s Early Learning initiatives.
Caroline visits Thomas Hughes Early Learning Center at Harold Washington Library almost every day. “It has become part of her routine. When we don’t go, she feels sad,” says Jinsong. Aside from reading, Caroline loves to play with letter blocks and “cook” with four of her closest friends at the play kitchen area. “They all met here. Now they do everything together.”
As for Jinsong, she’s just ecstatic to spend time with her only granddaughter. “I enjoy visiting the library as much as she does. It gives me so much joy to see her develop and learn. And of course, I get to spend quality time with her.” For both grandmother and granddaughter, visiting the library has become an important part of their day.
Early Learning is a free and accessible resource that supports Chicago Public Library’s youngest learners during the most formative years of their lives – preparing them for reading and speaking success. Early Learning is made possible thanks to Exelon, The Barker Welfare Foundation, PNC, The Brinson Foundation, TriBraining, the Warshawsky Family Philanthropic Fund and other generous donors to the Chicago Public Library Foundation. If you are interested in supporting Chicago’s children, you too can make a gift that goes a long way.