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ALA submits comments on Family Engagement and Early Learning

A parent reads to small children at her local library.
Parents and children reading together at the library. (Westport Library)

Yesterday, were we getting ready for ALA’s Midwinter conference that starts this week? Uh, no.

In fact we were putting the finishing touches on comments to the U.S. Departments of Health and Human Services and Education in response to their call for comments on their joint draft policy statement on family engagement and early learning. Their draft policy statement includes specific Principles of Effective Family Engagement Practices and recommendations for state and local action. The draft also reviews relevant research and includes an appendix with resources for planning engagement programs, professional development, and families.

We’re still reeling from the quick turnaround time but thanks to input and guidance from ALA’s youth divisions (AASL, ALSC, and YALSA) as well as PLA, we were able to develop strong examples of national, state, and local library programs and initiatives that support early learning, foster lifelong learning habits, and seek to engage parents and other caregivers during these important early years.

Given the historic commitment of libraries to foster learning at every stage in life for people from all backgrounds, we urged the Departments to recognize libraries as critical partners in advancing early learning opportunities and robust family engagement. Specifically, ALA recommended the Departments:

  • Include relevant library research and resources related to early learning and family engagement in the Principles to provide a stronger foundation for action at local, state and national levels;
  • Systematically review existing federal program guidelines and regulations to identify, coordinate, and increase opportunities to foster family engagement and rich learning experiences. Where appropriate, libraries and other government or non-profit entities should be eligible entities for relevant funding to support these efforts;
  • Convene national stakeholders to explore how they can support, coordinate, and invest in early learning programs to maximize impact at the federal level. The convening should develop and publicly release recommendations for action;
  • Advocate for mapping existing state and local assets and leveraging existing organizations before creating new entities so as to maximize efficiencies and effectiveness. Partnerships should be encouraged where possible to build capacity across entities; and
  • Explicitly include libraries as a resource for professional development and in-service training opportunities related to family engagement and early learning to leverage expertise and build stronger state and local connections.

Our interest in the policy statement stems from two efforts underway at OITP. The first is the Policy Revolution! initiative, which includes early learning and early literacy as one of the core areas of the National Policy Agenda for Libraries (pdf). The second is through the lens of the Program on Youth &Technology which among other issues, looks at the role of the library in providing informal learning opportunities rooted in STEAM and computational thinking activities.

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Marijke Visser

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