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Socio-emotional Learning and Bibliotherapy for Families

(The cat pic will make sense. Keep reading.)

Every parent wants to read with their child, and every parent hopes their child will glean some benefit from what they read. The past several years, 2020 in particular, have seen a huge proliferation of reading material for children designed to help them explore their inner worlds of thought and emotion.

When a parent or caregiver comes into the library asking for material to help a child understand and manage anger, as one example, the catalogue can help find what to read, but it can't help parents read the story for a particular meaning. The vast majority of us learn how to read, but reading for specific meaning isn't as universally developed. Saturation in narrative and extraction of specific meaning for specific purpose is second nature for a wide spectrum of professionals. It can be easy to take these skills for granted, but there are many people who, although perfectly literate, do not practice such skills on a daily basis. For example, a parent who is saturated in technical literature, schematics, or computer code everyday is extremely literate, but may not be as adept at extracting meaning from a picture book and communicating that meaning to a five-year-old.

There is a wide range of parents who, for different reasons, may struggle with pointing out how a character in a story deals with anger, with verbalizing the intended message of a particular story in language their child can relate to, with recognizing themes and explaining them. This is particularly true in situations where the child's first language is English and the parent's is not. Even when parent and child are fluent in the same language as the text, developing the skill of reading stories for particular meaning can be illusive and difficult. One could even state it is elitist to say it's easy explaining Winnie the Pooh or Dr. Seuss to a child; everything is "easy" from the perspective of someone who already knows how to do it.

This Spring, in my capacity as Youth Services Librarian at the Idea Exchange public libraries of Cambridge, Ontario, I have the opportunity to develop and deliver a six-week virtual program specifically focused on socio-emotional learning and bibliotherapy for children and families. That, of course, will NOT be the title of the program! I'm calling it "Meditate with Snoopy." Snoopy is my cat and will act as the program's mascot as I Zoomcast from my living room after school once a week for half an hour.

The program will incorporate readings/explorations of a selection of picture books that focus on thoughts, emotions, and wellness. There will also be a ten-minute secular mindfulness meditation delivered in language suitable for children, and each session will end with an activity or craft designed to help children explore and manage their rich inner worlds of thought and emotion. I'm also building a supporting collection of loanable games and toys which focus on developing socio-emotional skills, to be soft launched during Meditate with Snoopy. This PlaySmarts Toy & Game Collection will be officially launched by Idea Exchange in the summer once it has a sufficient number of items.

My hope is that parents who attend will see bibliotherapy-based socio-emotional learning in action and take away some skills for how to read with their children going forward. The children who attend will leave having exercised their imagination superpowers in some fun and helpful ways through the different meditations, exercises, etc. Recordings of the guided meditations will be made available online after each session so that families can go back and use them for later practice.

I also hope this program will showcase and highlight the value of bibliotherapy practice in a public library setting while dispelling the stubborn notion that it is somehow too "academic." I look forward to reporting some success as well as some awesome anecdotes!

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