The 3-Year-Old at the Library

Hi eazttbtsks
Readers — Just a little day brightener from the Free-Range Front. L.

Dear Free-Range Kids — I have a parenting theory: I never do for a child what that child can do for himself.  For the past few months I’ve given my three-year-old daughter my library card and stood a few feet behind her while she checks out her books in the children’s section of the library.  This morning I decided to take it a step further.  I gave her my card and told her to go check out her books on her own. (I did tell her to make sure she got her “ticket” receipt so I would know she completed her mission.)  She took the card and confidently strode off in the direction of the check out desk.

My little daughter was positively beaming from ear to ear when she returned from her errand!  She then trotted off happily to an area of the library where older (elementary aged) kids sit and read.  I guess she thought if she was old enough to check out her own library books, she was old enough to sit where the big kids sit!  🙂

Thanks much for encouraging me in letting my daughter take care of her own business! — Tara Kluth

30 Responses to The 3-Year-Old at the Library

  1. curiositycat January 6, 2011 at 5:13 am #

    Yay! I am going to start teaching my 3-year-old the same thing–thanks for the inspiration!

    I already use the same principle in regard to purchases for my older two (ages 6 and 9): I do not buy them treats, toys, special foods, or gifts for their friends.

    Instead, they each have a pre-paid spending card with an account they can manage on-line. They each receive an allowance every week, and from that they have to budget all their own extras, plus any birthday parties they have coming up.

    I always warn anyone in line behind us at the store if one or both of my children are making purchases–it takes a little longer this way–but the children love the independence and freedom, and I love the absence of whining and begging for things–if they want it, they save up for it and buy it.

  2. EricS January 6, 2011 at 5:17 am #

    As Lenore says…baby steps. Very nice to hear, keep it up Tara.

  3. Marie January 6, 2011 at 5:29 am #

    Great job Tara. It’s amazing what you can teach kids to do when you start them really young.

  4. Emily January 6, 2011 at 6:06 am #

    happy post!

  5. Joe January 6, 2011 at 6:16 am #


  6. SKL January 6, 2011 at 6:40 am #

    My kids love to pay at Bob Evans restaurant (you go up and pay at the counter after the meal). If only they could figure the tip on their own, I’d let them have at it. Instead, I give them a head start as I clear gather stuff up at the table, then sign the receipt in the end. They are 3 & 4.

    When can I start letting them figure the tip? Hmm.

    I do let them pay for their own stuff at stores when they’re spending their cash. I agree it takes a bit longer, but in the long run, isn’t it worse to see adults who can’t make change?

  7. Staceyjw January 6, 2011 at 6:54 am #

    Good job!

    And curiosity cat, that’s a great idea! You’re kids are better with money management than I am.

  8. Mike January 6, 2011 at 7:29 am #

    What a great story. Love it.

  9. Katarina Navane January 6, 2011 at 10:40 am #

    Wasn’t sure where to share this but here are some great stories of what kids can accomplish when they’re allowed to help out/wander off/think for themselves:

  10. maaaty January 6, 2011 at 12:02 pm #

    Way to go, little reader!

    I’d have my 3-year-old do the same, but at the five local branches I can think of, she’s not even closer to counter height!

  11. This girl loves to talk January 6, 2011 at 12:39 pm #

    yeah i wish they had a machine down low. My 4 year old s favourite thing to do is scan the books at the library. Usually she climbs on her little sisters stroller to reach, but she is such a monkey she often hangs off the edge of the counter to do it. I am usually right there with her and the last time we got severely told off by the librarian ( i understand its not good hygiene wise to have toddlers hanging off the counters and she puts her feet up there sometimes or the fact their scared she’ll fall) but it really upset her (and me).

    Libraries could you please provide a step up thing or a chair for kids to reach the counter to take out their own books???

  12. Claudia Conway January 6, 2011 at 4:31 pm #

    I was in the library doing some work when a librarian gently pointed out that a toddler was heading towards to door. Father acknowledged, said it was OK, he’d spotted him. Everything was cool, no one was funny about it. That’s nice.

  13. Heather January 6, 2011 at 5:37 pm #

    My dad reminded me that my library at home had a stool by the counter especially so that kids could check out their own books, which we were all very pleased to be able to do for ourselves.

    We had our own library cards, too. Actually, my 2 year old has had his library card since he was about 4 months old. As a newborn, he was fascinated by bookshelves.


  14. Sean January 6, 2011 at 6:45 pm #

    I remember a couple years ago, we were at a party (my daughter was 5 or 6) and she said she wanted something from the car. So, I gave her the keys and said to make sure she locked it. She did.

    One of the parents there said if he did that with his kid, they would have wrecked the car. Come on….

  15. Bellaleda January 6, 2011 at 10:05 pm #

    A tradition in our family is a child library card on the third birthday. All three of our children cherish their library cards. The self serve checkouts are especially fun.

  16. Shelly January 6, 2011 at 10:42 pm #

    That is so cool! I thought I was pretty free range, but after reading these posts I think I have room for improvement!

    I honestly would have never thought to let my kids check out books when they were three, although I do remember making them get their own stuff at fast food places (napkins, straws, anything behind the counter that they had to go ask for).

    I love the spending card idea.

  17. Dave January 7, 2011 at 12:22 am #

    Great story. Nice way to start the New Year.

  18. Decemberbaby January 7, 2011 at 2:58 am #

    … and now I’m off to ask our local branch to get a footstool so that kids can check out their own books.

  19. Jen January 7, 2011 at 3:56 am #

    Unfortunately, my local library is never open when we can go, so the trips are rare. 🙁

  20. Ann Becker-Schutte January 7, 2011 at 3:57 am #

    Tara–Thank you so much for sharing. Your comment about trying not to do things for your kids that they can do for themselves really resonated with me. My five year old daughter was diagnosed with a spinal instability that will need a fusion surgery to address. Since her diagnosis (at age 3), I know that I’ve tried not to prevent her from being physical, even though it scares me some days. However, as I read your post, I started to question whether I was still being too over-involved.

    So, today, at a new playground, when she was faced with a 7-foot fireman’s pole, I talked her through sliding down on her own, instead of being there to catch her. What a sunny smile when she could think of herself as the “brave big kid!”

    Thank you for bringing that smile to our day.

  21. Tara January 7, 2011 at 4:49 am #

    Thanks much for all the lovely comments on my story! My daughter wanted to go back to the library again today. 🙂

    And also, a note, our library still lets actual humans check you out (and they also have the self check) so not only did my daughter have to find the desk on her own, she had to interact with an actual adult human being! (And when we were leaving that actual human adult smiled hugely at her and told her to have a good day!)

  22. chris January 7, 2011 at 4:50 am #

    i have been lurking here for a couple of months now and I’d like to also thank you, lenore, and fellow readers, for helping to put a lot of my fears to rest as well.
    i grew up in a village where everyone knew each other, I grew up with a playground about a hundred yards from my house and my mum let me play there alone from about the age of four. I loved knowing the names of people I walked past on the way and saying Hi.
    i walked to school by myself from the age of 6, I knew how to cross the road without holding anyone’s hand.
    My children have not had those same freedoms. Because I bought the myth that the world is different and more dangerous now. As a result, my 7 year old daughter stays at my side and is nervous of the world. I feel very very bad about this. After reading here the last couple of months I have been trying to encourage her to not hang on to me constantly, to encourage her just a little way down the aisle from me when we go shopping, “would you go and get some toothpaste, while I choose some facewash?”
    she is looking at me like I’m a freaking lunatic, but I think slowly getting used to this new way of doing things.
    I’ve been teaching her road safety as well. When I’ve picked her up from school twice this week, I’ve had her look for traffic for herself, to check both ways and listen and then when she feels it’s safe to walk into the road to get into her side of the car. She is doing well – I have not trusted her enough. Thing are a-changing at my household though : )

    Thank you free-rangers!

  23. Jen Connelly January 7, 2011 at 6:37 am #

    I’ve definitely always prescribed to this idea: don’t do things for them that they can do for themselves.
    I’m constantly shocked at the things people say their kids (and there all kids) shouldn’t do, like make their own breakfast or lunch, cut their own food, etc. When they hear my kids have been getting their own sandwiches since they were 3 they are either flabbergasted or accuse me of being lazy and negligent. How could I let my poor babies do anything for themselves? Oh, how they suffer. They don’t care that my kids WANTED to make their own sandwiches so I taught them and then they wanted to do it all the time.
    My almost 5yo was so excited the other day. She was warming up her lunch and came in and told me no one had to do the microwave for her anymore because she knows to put her food in and press the start button (which automatically puts 30 seconds on it). When I mention this online inevitably I’m met with questions of my sanity…how could you let a 4yo use the microwave…unsafe, negligent, endangering her, stupid, etc. Yet she can do it just fine. Why should I get up, walk across the room and press a button when she can do it just fine on her own.
    Baffles the mind.

  24. Keda January 7, 2011 at 11:15 am #

    My 4yr old has been ordering and paying for my coffees for ages. He’s pretty shy and it’s a great way for him to have positive interactions with other people, where everyone knows the ‘script’ – apart from occasionally getting drink-in when I wanted to take-out (or vice versa) it works perfectly.

  25. ebohlman January 7, 2011 at 11:59 am #

    Jen: Mothers like that, IMHO, have so much of their identities tied up in being domestic servants for their kids that any alternatives threaten them: after all, if they’re doing things that kids really could be doing for themselves, all that labor isn’t worth much (in their worldview). The realization that you’ve been knocking yourself out doing pure busywork isn’t a pleasant one.

  26. Tara January 7, 2011 at 9:10 pm #

    Ebohlman, my goal is to work myself out of a job! If by the time my kids are teenagers they can do their own laundry, make a meal, clean the kitchen etc I consider my work a success. 🙂

  27. Mika January 8, 2011 at 12:15 am #

    What a great idea. I have twins at that age -one I know would do fine -one I’m not sure about -so I’ll be interested to see how it goes.

  28. Kara January 8, 2011 at 8:50 am #

    This isn’t totally on the same subject, but it reminded me of an incident w/ my kids when they were younger and I couldn’t find a place to email directly. (With the media the way it is, I’ve been feeling guilty the last few yrs. about all the things I felt comfortable in our safe neighborhood and safe town that I let my kids do w/ minimal supervision. I’m so grateful as I’m having my first grandbaby to have found this site–I think it will help me be less overprotective, although his parents may be helicopter parents–not sure yet.)

    My older son was about 5 or 6, because I know that my younger son was 1 or 2. My younger son choked on a graham cracker–he wasn’t bringing it up w/ an effective cough, so I finally started doing infant/young child Heimlich w/ him on his back and pushing up toward his chest. It wasn’t effective and he was turning blue, so as I picked him up by his ankles and started beating on his back (not recommended anymore at the time, if I recall–guess I need to update my CPR/Heimlich skills before the grandbaby comes, as I have no idea what the current recommendations are) I told my older son to call 911.

    I’d started teaching my older son how to make phone calls and he had memorized our phone no., address, etc. This was back w/ the older corded phones where you had to listen for the dial tone and then dial. He knew enough to do that, but realized that he’d dialed 991 (he was a huge fan of Rescue 911 and we’d watch it together–now at 22 he’s finishing his degree in criminal justice and planning to be a police officer.) When he realized he’d messed up, he knew to depress the button and get the dial tone again and then dial correctly. By then the graham cracker was up and his brother was pink, so I told him never mind. He hung up, since they hadn’t answered yet anyway.

    I’ve just always been very proud of my older son for that and for all the things he did from the birth of my younger son to help me as he progressed from the “run go get this stage” to as they both got older, supervising his brother in the well-childproofed living room while I was in the next room. (Actually, the whole house was extremely well childproofed, both due to the efforts of the previous owners and our own efforts.) My first symptom of MS was while I was pregnant w/ my second baby, and I got even worse postpartum. I’ve stayed ambulatory so far, but fatigue is a huge almost-universal symptom and I was working 32-44 hrs./wk. during their childhoods.

    Enjoy your babies and young children all you can while they’re young. Before you know it they’ll be in college and married and on their own and giving you your first grandbaby!

  29. Lindsay January 19, 2011 at 5:05 pm #

    Love the story!

    I was visiting my local library yesterday and had a virtual heart attack at the sign warning me that if children younger than 12 were left in the library alone, the police would be called!

    I live in Sydney, Australia, and this is pretty typical of the city. I have friends who’ve never let their children out the door by themselves 🙁


  1. Check the links… | Pure Spontaneity - January 6, 2011

    […] Freeing a 3 year old. […]