The Mansfield Public Library was honored last week with the official designation as a Family Place Library. Mayor David Cook, representatives from city council, city management and Friends of the Library were on hand for the ceremony, which included a presentation from Family Place Library National Coordinator Kathleen Deerr.
“The team here in Mansfield has already done a marvelous job,” Deerr said. “They’ve really embraced the philosophy of our program by reaching out to the entire family and setting up their play spaces and programs. We all look forward to seeing how this helps their services grow and reach the community.”
Family Place Libraries is an initiative that began more than 20 years ago. It was designed to help expand the role of libraries in the community and help promote child development, which research has proven to be crucial in the first three years. The organization offers extensive training and guidance required as part of the certification process. To date, more than 500 libraries across the country have received the Family Place Library designation, with Mansfield proud to join the ranks.
“Qualifying as a Family Place Library is something we’ve wanted to accomplish for a long time,” said Yolanda Botello, the city’s newly-appointed director of library services. “It’s a huge step forward for the level of service and commitment we are able to provide for the entire community. We’re all incredibly excited for everyone to see the changes in action.”
To qualify for certification, staff must complete four days of training, create a designated Family Place play area within the library open to all during normal operating hours and offer the Family Place Workshop at least twice a year. Program organizers say the free workshops provide a safe and fun environment for children and their caregivers to play and bond together, guided by educational toys and trained staff.
“The brain is only 25 percent developed at birth, but nearly 90 percent by age three,” said Deerr. “The experiences children have in those first few years are what shape their personality and development for the rest of their lives. It’s the interactive, relationship-based learning that makes the biggest impact. Something as simple as sitting on the floor playing peek a boo builds long-term connections and bonds, so we’ve designed these workshops to facilitate that play and help parents get the very best for their children.”
In addition to the educational free play, Family Place Workshops have resources on-site for a huge variety of needs. Parents can access everything from handouts to contact information for outside organizations that can help with legal or medical advice. Trained professionals can even pop in to classes for free screenings on developmental milestones and other early childhood needs.
“The idea is to create an environment where parents and caregivers feel comfortable enough to ask for help and build a network of support,” Deerr said. “Stronger, more educated and supported families grow happier, better educated and more productive children. It’s really an investment in the entire community.”
In fact, Deerr said Family Place Libraries has national research that shows programs supporting early childhood education give a 7-10 percent return on the investment for the entire economic area. This designation, she said, is not just a win for the library but the city as a whole. The Mansfield Public Library received an $18,000 grant for training, certification applications and all of the equipment and materials purchased for the program.
Mansfield Public Library currently offers Family Place playtime for toddlers 18 months to three years old on Wednesdays and Fridays from noon to 2 p.m. Those sessions are come and go and do not require registration. For more information on this and other library programs, visit mansfieldtexas.gov/library. For details on the Family Place Library program, visit familyplacelibraries.org.