If you’ve got kids, I’m guessing you’ve experienced a kids’ home library that never looks tidy. You’ve probably seen it all: books with the spines facing backward, a meticulously organized system that was wrecked in three days, or an ever present stack of books on the floor needing to be re-shelved.
Chances are good that you’ve either made it too complicated, or haven’t attempted any organization at all!
I haven’t figured out how to help my son off his roller coaster of emotions, or discovered how to reign in my daughter’s sassiness, but you know what I HAVE figured out? You guessed it! How to have a fabulous kids’ home library.
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Starting a Kids’ Home Library
If you’re starting from nothing, or simply wishing you could start fresh, here is how to begin.
Identify Space Available for Your Kids Home Library
Begin by deciding where you want your library and how much space you can dedicate to books. In our home, all children’s books are kept in one central location, rather than each child having their own stash.
Books are meant to be shared. It’s also just more practical than trying to find space in multiple different rooms.
Reading is a big part of our family life, so I knew I wanted lots of room to accommodate tons of books.
PS, we are totally obsessed with our audio book player, the Yoto! Read my full review here. It’s pricey, but it’s our #1 FAVORITE educational toy.
Purchase A Shelving System for Your Kids’ Home Library
Once you’ve chosen your space, it’s time to find the right bookshelf or bookshelves.
If you’ve got a large selection that will require multiple bookshelves like we do, it’s okay to purchase mismatched ones second-hand if that’s the most affordable thing. Painting everything the same color will unify them, and a gallon of paint is pretty cheap!
I found some budget-friendly shelves that work pretty well for us at Target. They are not solid wood, but they have worked surprisingly well given the weight of our books.
Do you have a four or five year old who is an amazing reader? That’s awesome, but make sure they KEEP growing. Here are my tips for raising a gifted reader.
Pare Down Books
Look at your current collection and see if there are any books that need to be donated or tossed.
Books to donate:
- Outgrown – the youngest child in your family is too old for the book
- Duplicate – you’ve got two for some reason
- Annoying – the kind you hate to read aloud, and no one will notice it’s gone
- Misaligned – the book teaches values your family doesn’t support
Books to trash:
- Pop-up books with torn flaps
- Books with missing pages
- Unwanted books with crayon or other marks, making them a bad fit for donation
Gather More Books if Necessary
As you start looking through your book collection, you might notice some gaps. For example, since our daughter was the oldest, she got tons of books. In fact, at her (very large) baby shower, guests brought books instead of cards, so we had a huge collection from day 1.
It wasn’t until my son was almost 2 that I realized we had very few books just for him. He loves dinosaurs, trucks, trains, and “belly draggers,” and he had no books about any of those things! I began asking friends and relatives for books at his birthdays and Christmas. Now, he’s got his own stack of favorites.
How can I get free children’s books in the mail or near me?
Let’s make this as easy as possible! Here are some great options.
I love Dolly so much, and her literacy program is incredible. You may be eligible to receive free, developmentally appropriate books for your kids through her Imagination Library. Dolly’s daddy couldn’t read, and this project was born out of her love for him.
We have two of these within a one-mile radius of my house. I can get out of the van, walk over to one in a neighbor’s yard or elementary school parking lot, and quickly add and remove books to the library for keeping and giving away. Learn more about little free libraries here.
Teacher Facebook Groups
Join a teacher’s Facebook group if possible – after all, you’re your child’s first and most important teacher! Especially in May and August, you’ll see lots of teachers looking to offload books, and some of them are in great condition. Many teachers switch grade levels and find their perfectly nice books are no longer age appropriate. This is a great way to add to your collection.
Used Book Stores
Don’t disregard second-hand book stores for your kids’ home library. Kids don’t really appreciate the difference between new and used. Used books are awesome! These aren’t free, but they are often really close!
What to Do About Library Books
At all times, we have between 25 and 50 library books as part of our kids’ home library. It doesn’t make sense, in our case, to keep them mixed in with the other ones. It’s just too easy to lose them unless they’re kept separate.
However, if you’re a mom on a budget with a small kids’ home library, you can really fill out your shelves by keeping lots of library books on your shelves. Our local library allows up to 50 books checked out at a time. One of our favorite, easy breezy weekend activities is visiting the library. We bring two big tote bags and each of our big kids is allowed to fill one completely.
So, you need to decide – will you save room on your shelves for a steady rotation of library books, or allocate a separate space for them?
We keep our library books separate from our others. They stay in this wire basket next to the couch.
Organizing/Cataloging a Kids Home Library with the Rainbow Color System
The best way to organize a kids’ home library is by color.
- Step 1: Pull all books off the shelf, pulling books for donation or the trash.
- Step 2: Sort books on the floor by the color of the spine. I created 8 stacks: white, red, orange, yellow, green, blue, pink/purple, and black/brown/grey.
- Step 3: Load the books back onto the shelves in rainbow order – the same order listed above.
Why should you sort by color of the spine? Read more below.
Most organizational systems aren’t developmentally appropriate for a kids’ home library.
Your kiddo probably can’t keep their bookshelves properly organized by alphabetical order. I teach third and fourth grade, and the vast majority of kids struggle to use a dictionary, because sorting by the alphabet is just a hard thing to do.
They also have a hard time with genre. You can teach kids the difference between fantasy, realistic fiction, historical fiction, non-fiction and more. They’re already learning it at school. If your child is under 4th or 5th grade, I can promise you your bookshelves will not stay organized this way. Even older children won’t likely keep them this way.
The truth is that kids struggle to categorize things properly even when they’re really concentrating and trying their hardest. It gets even worse when they’re just doing routine maintenance. Obviously, they’d rather be playing than cleaning. I’m not even sure I would spend all that time thinking about genre or alphabetical order, so it’s not reasonable to expect that of a child.
But color is something they can master. When kids sort by color, they can visually confirm that they’ve gotten it right! My kids actually love maintaining their library because when they put something in the right spot, they can SEE it. They are proud of their bookshelves.
Looking for more things to organize by color? How about sorting your child’s crayons and markers by color?
Kids will find their books easily.
I’ve noticed that my kids can easily find their favorite books when they’re sorted by spine color. For some reason, they’re able to remember the spine color and spot those books pretty quickly, no matter how many times they re-shelve them.
Right? No further commentary required.
Maintain the system with a once per year minimizing.
This color coding system requires very little maintenance. My six and three year old keep it tidy without any help from me!
However, we regularly receive books as gifts throughout the year, so I try to minimize their collection once per year. After all, you’ll eventually reach max capacity on your shelves, so it’s important to pare down occasionally.
Got messy kids? Check out my kid-friendly tidying solution!
Some Thoughts about Toddler Libraries at Home
I take a totally different approach with toddler home libraries! After all, these little guys have completely different developmental needs. Here are three ways to adjust your kids’ home library if you’ve got a toddler at home. The best toddler libraries are:
Low to the ground
After all, my toddler isn’t even walking yet! Her library is completely within her reach. I happen to think it’s very cute. Her shelves are just spice shelves from Ikea.
Toddler books need to face forward so the little friend can see more of the book. If the book is forward facing, all those bright colors on the cover are more likely to attract his or her attention. Plus, it’s super cute.
Displaying board books like this takes up more room, but that’s okay. Put up the rest of the board books and rotate them often.