This blog represents most of the newspaper columns (appearing in various Colorado Community Newspapers and Yourhub.com) written by me, James LaRue, during the time in which I was the director of the Douglas County Libraries in Douglas County, Colorado. (Some columns are missing, due to my own filing errors.) This blog covers the time period from April 11, 1990 to January 12, 2012.

Unless I say so, the views expressed here are mine and mine alone. They may be quoted elsewhere, so long as you give attribution. The dates are (at least according my records) the dates of publication in one of the above print newspapers.

The blog archive (web view) is in chronological order. The display of entries, below, seems to be in reverse order, new to old.

All of the mistakes are of course my own responsibility.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

June 10, 2008 - "discovery packs" prevent sibling torture

When I was a kid (one of five), my parents could afford only one vacation a year: a car trip from north of Chicago to my mother's folks in Ohio. It was usually in the hottest month of the year.

The interstate highway program was still under development back then. For years, the trip took 10-12 hours, as we stuttered, stoplight by stoplight, on the two lane roads through Chicago, then Gary, Indiana (whose sky was always red, even at night), and across Indiana.

Eventually, with I-94 and I-80, the trip got whittled down to six hours, allowing no more than two potty breaks.

Imagine five kids in the back of a Ford four-door. No seat belts. Six hours. Pre-air-conditioning. Parents who smoked more or less constantly, interrupted only by the usual threats: "Don't make me stop this car! Do I have to come back there and separate you two?"

It's a wonder any of us survived.

I brought comic books and science fiction novels, because it didn't bother me to read in the car. But we usually had to fall back on dumb Interstate games -- finding a license from the farthest away state, looking for words on billboards, extra points for being the first to spot a VW bug, and so on.

These days many cars have built-in DVD players, or parents bring portable ones. Or they have other electronic devices to distract the children from the excruciating mutual torture that so often attends confined sibling interaction.

Allow me to offer another tool for those family drives. Jordana Vincent, one of our Collection Development Librarians, told me recently about one of our cooler new products. They're called "Discovery Packs."

You can find them in, and check them out from, the children's room at all of our libraries. You can recognize them by their fun and friendly logo (designed by Jake, one of our in-house graphic wizards).

Each Discovery Pack contains several picture books, a DVD, and a toy of some sort. Each pack has a theme. Right now, we have eight: Space, Dinosaurs, Fire Safety, Time, Horses, Pets, Fairies and "Move It!" "Move It!" is focused on exercise and healthy eating. In addition to the books, it includes activity mats, a Mousercise CD with workout music, and a Denise Austin Kid's workout video.

Of course, you probably won't have your children doing actual exercises while they're strapped in, but the point is that these packets are a convenient and entertaining way to not only divert your child from the boredom of the road, but also to insinuate a little learning.

We live, after all, in a multimedia world these days. This kind of thoughtful rounding up of items along a theme is another example of the added value of librarianship. You swing by, grab a discovery pack, and you have something that can keep a child (and parent) interested. When you're done, back into the bag, and hand it back to one of our friendly librarians.

And of course, Discovery Packs are good for home, too!

I'm always delighted to see the many creative solutions our staff come up with. So give this one a try with your preschoolers, and let us know how it works for you. Let us know, too, about any other ideas for themes your children might like to explore.

And remember, whether on the road or at home, the mind you save ... may be your own.

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