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Just like smartphones aren’t only for making calls, the library isn’t only for signing out books. Chances are, your local library offers a whole list of freebies that you’d totally forgotten about or never even knew about to begin with. In-library resources, items (besides books) available for sign-out and free events are just a few of the goodies you probably aren’t using on the regular. Your local library is home to a ton of cool stuff, and it’s time to start taking advantage.

For all the cheapskate parents out there (who we can truly relate to), here’s your guide to getting the most out of all the hidden wonders of your local library.

BOOKS ARE JUST THE BEGINNING

We all love leaving the library with a fresh, fat stack of books – our kids especially. But if you’re limiting yourself to books, you’re missing out. Libraries also offer a variety of other materials for loan, including DVDs, Blu-ray discs, CDs, audio books, magazines and, wait for it, VIDEO GAMES. Those items are typically standard, but some libraries, like the Toronto Public Library, have not-so-common items like musical instruments and pedometers available to borrow. Each library is unique, so it’s best to reach out to your local branch to find out what’s up for grabs. You might just be surprised!

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READING, PLAYING AND SAVING MONEY – OH MY!

Regardless of where you live, your nearest library branch will feature programming for kids – most of which also happens to be free. The Mississauga Library, for example, features a variety of free and interactive drop-in programs that combine stories, music and movement like Toddler or Preschool Storytime and Stay & Play. The Vancouver Public Library hosts get-togethers like Family Storytime, Babytime and Library in the Park events, to name a few. Visit your local library online or give them a call to find out exactly what they offer, as each branch follows their own specific program schedule.

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 TECHNO-LICIOUS

In today’s techno-world, the sky is truly the limit when it comes designing and building – and there’s a good chance your local library is leading the charge. Many libraries across Canada now offer free access to what are commonly called “Maker Spaces” – these are state-of-the-art hubs where creativity meets technology. (Not all branches offer these spaces, so check in advance.)

The Toronto Public Library, for example, offers everything from 3D design and printing (with instructional classes) to extensive digital design workstations in their Digital Innovation Hubs. There’s even programming for kids and tweens, including LEGO Club and STEM-focused activities (science, technology, engineering and mathematics). The Greater Sudbury Public Library Makerspace offers GeekOUT Mini-Makers, a workshop for young inventors, a Build an Instrument workshop and Minecraft Club, for example. Regardless of your child’s age and interests, maker spaces encourage kids (and adults!) to build, create, learn and have a blast through a wide variety of unique (and blissfully free) programming.

Some maker spaces, like the Edmonton Public Library Makerspace, offer free use of a sound booth with recording equipment, instruments and editing tools, a green screen and a book printing/binding machine. Just think of the potential birthday gifts for Grandma and Grandpa! (Be sure to contact maker spaces in advance when planning to use equipment, as most require you to reserve your time.)

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PASSES TO LOCAL ATTRACTIONS? YES PLEASE

Did you know that certain libraries actually loan out family passes for local attractions? Mind = blown. As long as you have a valid adult library card for the library that is offering the passes, you’re golden (although, depending on demand, some locations will put you on a long wait list, so inquire far in advance when planning the excursion).

For example, the Ottawa Public Library’s access passes offer free admission to museums and galleries like the Canadian Children’s Museum, the Canadian Aviation and Space Museum and the National Gallery of Canada. The Toronto Public Library’s Sun Life Financial Theatre + Arts Pass offers free access to attractions like the Art Gallery of Ontario, the Royal Ontario Museum and the Toronto Zoo – an excursion that would typically cost a family of four nearly $100 on admission tickets alone! The Vancouver, Calgary, Winnipeg, Hamilton and Kingston public libraries are some of the others that offer similar passes. Parameters for passes may differ between locations, so be sure to check with your local branch before signing them out.

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E-BOOKS ARE E-XCELLENT

So, maybe you’ve got avid young readers at home, but they aren’t interested in physically going to the library on a regular basis. (Or maybe you’re just having a hard time peeling them away from their devices.) Enter the world of e-ntertainment. As long as your kids have access to a computer, phone or tablet, you’ll be able to simply download e-books for them that can be transferred to their preferred device. Some e-books even come with the “narration” option, allowing kids to have the story read to them out loud. Titles in the e-book collection are searchable by reading level, book title, author or genre, making it easy to find what you and your kids are looking for. The best thing about e-books? They’re available through all libraries. Visit your local branch online to register for an account using your valid library card and start downloading!

HOMEWORK HELP

While the library is obviously a quiet place to work and study, many locations also offer additional support for kids and teens requiring homework help. This list of resources provided by the Barrie Public Library, for instance, contains verified links to websites – including everything from world history and art, to sports and games – for children and teens to access from home or at the branch. The Toronto Public Library offers a Homework Help for Teens program where trained, volunteer tutors provide help to teens on a drop-in basis. Simply visit your local library online or inquire at the location to find out what online and in-branch resources are available.

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