Impact Impact: Feature Issue on Early Childhood Education and Children with Disabilities
Integrating Early Intervention Supports in Libraries:
Baltimore County, Maryland
Babies bouncing on their parent's lap to a familiar nursery rhyme, toddlers singing a "Hello" song to all their friends who have come to story time, parents retelling the story of the "Three Little Pigs" with puppets. These activities and more are examples of what families are doing in the Baltimore County Public Library. Whether it be a story time led by a librarian and supported by an early intervention staff member, or a more directed group led by an early intervention teacher or therapist in a library children's area, families, children, and staff members are all benefiting from the experience.
Several years ago, service providers from the Baltimore County Infants and Toddlers Program (BCITP) of the Baltimore County (Maryland) Public Schools identified a gap in community options that provided two-year-old children with disabilities group opportunities to play and learn alongside other 2-year-olds. There were few community options for families who had stay-at-home moms or dads. Program staff members were not willing to create segregated group options for children with disabilities. Providers, however, were willing to create group opportunities for children and families within the program that included children from the community. During the same time period, the Baltimore County Public Library (BCPL) was looking to expand services for young children and their families to support early literacy. BCPL has always had a strong commitment to early childhood. In 2004, BCPL began integrating early childhood activity areas into each of the library system's 17 branches, and in 2008, BCPL opened Storyville, a one of a kind 2,240 square-foot, museum-quality, early learning village for children birth to five years of age. With similar needs identified by both organizations, it was a natural partnership for the BCITP providers and families to join together with BCPL's branches to develop an integrated approach to meet the needs of the county's youngest citizens and their families. These events provided the basis for the first of many successful partnerships with families, libraries, and early intervention providers.
The Program's Purpose
The purpose of the partnership between BCITP and BCPL is to support families as their child's first teachers. Within this umbrella, several other goals continue to be met for both programs. For BCITP providers, the collaborative groups are often utilized as a strategy to support children and families to achieve outcomes on their Individualized Family Service Plans (IFSPs). Other outcomes for BCITP include the following:
- Connecting families to community resources.
- Providing inclusive group opportunities for young children with disabilities.
- Facilitating opportunities for families to be together.
- Offering resources to families to support their children's development.
- Utilizing existing rather than creating natural environments for young children.
This partnership strongly supports BCPL's mission and goals of promoting early literacy and creating a life-long love of reading through the following:
- Creating a welcoming environment for children with and without disabilities and their families.
- Providing developmentally appropriate books, materials, and programs that make it easy to support early literacy.
- Offering resources to families to ensure that they have a clear understanding of what community programs are available to support them.
- Increasing circulation of librarymaterials and program attendance.
This collaboration benefits Baltimore county's families that include a young child with disabilities far beyond the original vision of the partner agencies and their staff members. In addition to having easy access to early childhood materials, families report several other benefits. These include meeting other families in their communities and feeling supported to access resources in their neighborhoods. Families also indicate that they have "rediscovered" the library, and many are surprised to find that libraries no longer expect children to "be quiet and read." Families of children with significant physical disabilities have provided feedback that prior to the groups, they would have been hesitant to access the public library. But, after experiencing the library with the support of a BCITP provider and other families, they often report becoming frequent independent patrons. In addition to recognizing how the collaborative groups support language, motor, and social development for children, many families indicate a stronger connection to their neighborhoods.
Successfully Supporting School Readiness
This partnership began with two early intervention providers facilitating one weekly story time hour at one branch in 2005. The partnership has broadened to eight branches and includes several different group models that range from family education groups to supporting language or other targeted skills to traditional story time. BCITP families have become more connected to their neighborhood libraries. BCITP continues to utilize library groups and services to support children and families to meet their IFSP outcomes. BCPL is reaching its goal of supporting early learning and literacy. Other Baltimore county families have become more aware of the Baltimore County Infants and Toddlers Program and now know where to turn if they have concerns about their child's development. In the end, services and supports from each organization are integrated to support readiness skills for all of Baltimore county's children. This has proven the greatest success of this program.
Lessons to Share
BCITP and BCPL have learned several lessons over the past five years as this partnership has grown. For other programs who wish to establish similar offerings, the following considerations could be taken into account:
- Partnering by early intervention and public libraries to offer programs for young children with disabilities makes use of existing resources including staff, space, and early learning materials.
- If offering multiple options in one county, allow service providers the flexibility to try different models.
- Integrate the feedback provided by participating families to enhance quality.
- The purpose of the group should support the child and family outcomes included on the Individualized Family Service Plan (IFSP).
- Outside of a family's home, there is no environment more natural for learning than a public library.