TTW Guest Post: Waukegan PL Space for Early Literacy

We just opened an amazing room for early literacy at the Waukegan Public Library. The impetuous for the room was a survey conducted by the United Way on Kindergarten Readiness in Spanish and English. Cut to the chase—the children of Waukegan are entering school unprepared, children are not doing well in school and several schools in Waukegan are on the No Child Left Behind watch list.

Within 6 months we had architectural plans to put in a stimulating, engaging, room for preschoolers featuring multiple places to explore with hands-on learning. There is a pretend play theatre, arts and crafts center, science and math lab, nature center, music hall and a “crawl space” for infants.

We’ve gotten some good online press about it at I Love Libraries, School Library Journal, and the Suburban Chicago News.

Here is a some info on the planning.

The concept for the center sprang from a 2006 United Way survey that showed only 43% of Waukegan kindergartners ever attend preschool, and 77% speak Spanish as their primary language. Over half the kids surveyed had little or no exposure to books before entering public school. The study also showed that in this largely Hispanic community, eight out of ten new kindergartners can’t recognize the letters in the alphabet. The library had previously set aside 2,200 square feet to build a space dedicated to preschoolers, but prior to this study coming out the room’s primary function would have been to hold the preschool book collection.

“I was astounded by the percentages,” says Richard Lee, Executive Director of the library. “Looking at those deficiencies, we decided to set some measurable goals.” With guidance from Waukegan School District
60, the library began planning an Early Learning Center (ELC) dedicated to developing four pre-literacy skills: listening, speaking, reading and writing. Developers based the design on the Illinois Early Learning
Standards set by the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE), creating stations for science and math, pretend play, storytimes, arts and crafts, nature, music, and infant development.

Using the Kohl Children’s Museum in Glenview as a model, the architects crafted the space to engage the senses and appeal to each child’s inner explorer-with costumes to don, bells to ring, dough to squish and paint to dab. Of course, the center also holds an extensive collection of picture and board books, as well as games and puzzles to foster pre-reading skills. Signage appears in English and Spanish.

Elizabeth Stearns
Assistant Director of Community Services