Library outings offer a variety of learning experiences

National Library Week is April 18-24.

Libraries are great places for children to visit with parents or grandparents. Our suburban library, though small, rates high marks for convenience. It's close to home, and our children participate in the free story-hour programs here. But the favorite library in our family of four children under age 10 is the main library downtown.

Walking to the bus, transferring to the train, and walking three blocks through downtown office buildings is part of the fun. The kids giggle at the city's clouds of pigeons. We inspect statues in the park, tickling the bronze toes of the city's founder.

By the time we arrive, we're ready for some sit-down time at the Children's Room on the library's third floor.

My fourth-grade daughter appreciates having the books arranged according to reading level. She knows right where to go for her favorite authors. Six years of visits here have taught her the usefulness and friendliness of the librarians. She doesn't hesitate to ask them questions.

I always read a few stories aloud to our preschoolers. The Children's Room is separate from the rest of the library, so we don't disturb others. The librarians here don't expect continual silence, knowing that young voices don't whisper for long periods of time.

Sometimes the preschoolers look for a familiar book, other times for something new. If a book doesn't hold their interest, they choose another. This is one place we can never run out of stories.

We vary sitting and reading with other activities. The globe in the Children's Room is done in relief and invites touching. If the children have chosen an animal book, we search out the animal's home on the globe. They can feel whether the animal inhabits a smooth plain or bumpy mountain.

The Children's Room also has two doll houses. Although not for touching, the houses inspire games of ''I spy with my little eye . . .'' The youngsters climb up on the stools provided and look down on miniature toys, pets, plants -- a whole houseful of objects similar to and different from what's at home.

What a contrast the doll houses are to the library's own vastness! The children are learning to identify the different architectural features of the library's two imposing buildings. We remark on the vaulted, frescoed ceilings of the main floor, the larger-than-life murals on the walls, the huge staircases made of cool marble. Even preschoolers can learn the words for the types of arches and columns they see here.

We also patronize the film department. We've checked out 16mm films for block parties and birthday parties, for our cooperative preschool, and for rainy and snowy weekends.

Reading-age children are learning what an index is from the categories of films listed in catalogs provided. They help select the films. Many children's books -- ''Rosie's Walk,'' for example, and ''Where the Wild Things Are'' -- have been re-created on film.

In the summer we also lunch in the sunlit garden between the buildings surrounded by plants.

In addition to giving us time together, these family library outings offer another priceless advantage -- the pleasure of sharing books and reading.

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