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By Kathleen O’Connor

The Durango Public Library, located next to the scenic Animas River Trail, is more than just a repository of over 108,000 books, magazines, games, downloadables, and other forms of education and entertainment. It’s also one of the most popular community hubs in town; a place to attend a city-sponsored public meeting or a class on Japanese cuisine, join a book club, or gather with fellow history buffs to talk about your favorite historical fiction or nonfiction. There’s more than enough to entice even the most demanding avid learner. And when it comes to Durango kids, the plethora of youth-focused programs is no exception.

The library provides educational and entertaining programming for all youths – from toddlers to teenagers – whether they’re Durango residents or just passing through town with their families. The library’s Youth Services Supervisor, Callie Blackmer, strives to make all the youth programs interesting for the kids while also fostering enrichment and amusement along the way.

For the little ones, the library has two weekly story times. Baby Storytime, for newborns up to 2 years old, exposes babies to the act of hearing books read aloud while also demonstrating to parents the skills that promote early literacy in children.

And that’s a good thing. According to research, early exposure to reading has many benefits for babies, including positive effects on cognition and language skills. One recent study found that daily reading of at least one book to babies, beginning at two weeks of age, improved language scores by the time they reached nine months. “Reading to babies sets a foundation that will serve them through their lifetime,” Blackmer said.

Additionally, the library hosts a weekly family storytime geared towards 2- to 5-year-olds. These are generally around 30 minutes long and include various activities that help keep those toddler brains active and engaged. “We do read books, but we also incorporate repetitions and rhymes and encourage a lot of moving around to get those wiggles out,” said Blackmer.

In partnership with the non-profit organization Early Childhood Council of La Plata County, the library also offers a six-part Play and Learn workshop series twice a year for parents, caregivers, and their preschool-age children. With workshop titles such as “A Way With Words: Early Language-Talking and Singing” and “All By Myself: Gross Motor Skills & Independence,” these sessions cover key topics that support growth in early literacy, math, motor skills, and social-emotional skills. “These workshops are great because they build upon each other and really teach the kids the skills they need as they begin kindergarten,” said Blackmer. The workshop series is typically offered in the spring and summer and lasts six weeks.

For elementary school-aged kids, the library offers a fun and engaging way to spend a Friday afternoon and kick off the weekend on a high note. Beginning at 3:30 p.m., kids can come to the library after school to imagine and build their dream castle fortress or create the ultimate techno-mobile in LEGO Club. On alternating Fridays, the library offers STEAM Lab, which provides activities with a focus on science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics. These sessions allow kids to learn and execute coding skills or create upcycled mobiles from recycled materials, among many other STEAM-powered activities offered.

But the “littles” and “quasi-littles” aren’t the only ones who get to enjoy the library’s youth programs: tweens and teens can join in the fun, too. One night a month, after the doors are closed and locked to the general public, the library hosts a “Teen Night” for those in grades 6-12. Each month offers a different theme, such as last March when it was Night of the Leprechauns, where participants were encouraged to dress up in leprechaun garb. More recently, organizers embraced the ever-popular murder mystery theme and hosted a Whodunit Mystery Night, where kids invoked their inner Sherlock Holmes to solve a murder case. “It was kind of like a live-action Clue,” said Blackmer with a smile.

Incorporating bilingual programs is another essential component of the youth services at the library. In addition to including Spanish language books during story times, the library recently collaborated with Durango High School for a language exchange program where native Spanish speakers could practice English and English speakers may practice Spanish through entertaining conversational activities. These offer a great way to make new friends while practicing language skills with peers.

For kids ages 7-17 who are eager to hone their strategic skills and maybe even become the next world chess champion, the library offers a weekly drop-in youth chess club. Participants of all proficiency levels are encouraged to join in. The library provides chess sets, but you can always bring your own if preferred.

All told, the Durango Public Library offers an impressive array of youth services catering to the community’s diverse needs while also providing a space for children and young adults to learn, grow, and thrive. From fun and educational storytimes for babies and toddlers to engrossing elementary-age activities and zany theme nights for teens, the Durango Public Library is undoubtedly an invaluable asset to the youths in our community.

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