MUSCATINE — Familiar faces such as King Arthur and Goldilocks now gleam from underneath the stairs at Musser Public Library. As part of a new interactive exhibit, children can now use these childhood characters to sharpen their math skills.
While maybe not the first thing one would think of with fairy tale characters, Betty Collins, youth services librarian at Musser, said that many children’s books incorporate mathematics.
“There is actually a lot of good children’s literature that includes math and counting concepts,” Collins said. “And probably the biggest reason for that is counting and working with numbers is really an integral part of a young child’s life. Whether it is counting how many cookies are on a plate, dividing the cookies by the number of people eating them or just knowing what the numbers are, those are concepts that you might not necessarily think of with children’s literature, but a lot of it is.
The interactive exhibit was a collaboration between the American Library Association and Minnesota Children’s Museum. It was on loan to the Muscatine Art Center.
“They got a great response there at the Art Center, and we were lucky enough to get to show it before it has to go back,” Collins said. “We got a call from them about a week ago if we would like to house it before it goes back to Minnesota. We are just really grateful for them reaching out to us.”
While all books are interactive, Collins said that there is something special about watching children interact with the exhibit.
“Children will go up and immediately, start manipulating the objects,” Collins said. “And they are met with questions. Do you want to sort these pieces or count out different things? How many chips are in the chocolate chip cookie?”
But it is more than just a fun way for children to learn math skills. Collins said she has seen a lot of interactions between children and their care providers around the displays.
“One of the things that I really love about it is I’ve heard a lot of conversations between parents and children and as a library, that’s one of those things we really want to encourage and promote,” Collins said. “Because it is parents or their caring adults talking with their young children that really helps them develop the language skills that lead to literacy.”
A 2017 study from the Journal of Developmental Science demonstrated a link between oral vocabulary and reading ability. The study further ingrained the notion that caregivers talking and reading to students helps develop literacy skills.
"It really confirms the importance of teaching oral vocabulary to children," said the study’s author Signy Wegener in an interview with ABC News. "It helps them to expect what they see when they see it written for the first time.
“Of course literature and books are our biggest business, and we of course value it very highly,” Collins said. “But on the other hand, we also believe strongly in (children) interacting with the world. It’s one of the ways they here, and this is a great example of how they can physically interact with manipulatable objects that are all straight from children’s literature and learn it all in a library setting.”