Despite Challenges of the Pandemic, Santa Barbara Public Library Finds Creative Ways to Support Caregivers of Young Children

Authored on

2021 was a year full of unexpected challenges for families, caregivers and young children. Pandemic conditions undermined opportunities for little ones to learn social skills and for parents and caregivers to seek support from their community. As an institution that strives to promote literacy and early learning, Santa Barbara Public Library launched a series of programs to expand early learning and serve and support the needs of informal child care providers through funding from a grant from the California State Library.

In February 2020, Santa Barbara Public Library received a Shared Vision Grant from the California State Library of $250,000 to expand the Stay and Play program for children and their caregivers. Shortly thereafter, the pandemic closed the library, and only virtual programs continued. Staff adapted the Stay and Play program to meet the emerging needs of families and caregivers. The Library premiered virtual Nurturing Know-How/Cuidando Niños Sabiamente caregiver classes, hosting 26 classes (13 in English and 13 in Spanish) in 2021. Over three hundred caregivers attended live Zoom classes and almost 1000 more tuned in after the videos were posted on YouTube. Survey results revealed that those caregivers who attended unanimously agreed that they learned something about child development, running a business, teaching techniques, or child safety by attending these classes.

Since caregivers and young children were cut off from community learning experiences during the pandemic, the Library provided more than 1300 free preschool activity kits that could be taken home or used in daycares to enrich children’s learning, with themes such as shapes and colors, move and learn, and animal habitats. The kits were distributed via organizations that serve families such as the Family Service Agency, United Way, Storyteller Children’s Center, and Transition House. These kits have been highly requested by community organizations and caregivers alike. Caregivers generally report that they spend about a half hour engrossed in the activities with children and have positive experiences. One said, “We loooove the preschool kits! Even though my son is only 2 and we do the project just partly or differently. We always have fun exploring and we keep the materials and instructions for the future. Thank you so much SBPL!”

The Library also partnered with Santa Barbara Parks and Recreation, Santa Barbara Botanic Garden, and the Carpinteria Children’s Project to host Storywalks®. Storywalk® is an activity in which a bilingual picture book is set up on signs along an outdoor path. Reading a story this way is a safe, consistent, and welcome approach to promoting early literacy with children and caregivers. In 2021, the library provided 76 Storywalks® at 12 outdoor locations for almost 2500 participants. Staff provided take-home activity packets that enriched learning at each event, giving out well over 1000 kits.

In late September, pandemic conditions allowed the library to start hosting Stay and Play in person as an outdoor program. Staff provided enough copies of learning manipulatives for each attendee so that children could play together without sharing toys. During the last few months of 2021, the library hosted almost 40 Stay and Play events at local parks, on the Eastside Library Patio, at Harding University Partnership Elementary School, at MOXI, the Wolf Museum of Exploration and Innovation, at the Carpinteria Children’s Project, and at the Santa Barbara Zoo. These events served over 700 people. All surveyed caregivers reported that they felt supported by library staff and other caregivers and that they have learned something new about community resources at Stay and Play events.

Despite the challenges of the pandemic, Library staff were able to meet the original goal of the Stay and Play grant by connecting library resources with friends, family, and neighbor caregivers who provide the bulk of care for children under five years old.  In California, about 80% of young children under two and 40% of children under five are cared for by informal child care providers. According to a 2015 study by the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, family, friend, and neighbor caregivers often lack access to the training and support available to formal, licensed child care providers. Stay and Play provides a place for FFNs to learn valuable knowledge about child development and other relevant caregiver skills, make connections with community resources, and find social support. Due to the challenges of the pandemic, many more families found themselves relying on friends, family, and neighbor caregivers, so these programs were especially impactful to those who unexpectedly found themselves caring for young children.

Santa Barbara Public Library is looking forward to continuing the Stay and Play program in 2022. Caregivers and families are welcome to join one of the daily outdoor early literacy programs offered at multiple locations, Tuesday through Friday or one of the two or more monthly caregiver classes. The next round of preschool activity kits will be ready for pick up at SBPL libraries and Library on the Go locations in February. The Library has partnered with Women’s Economic Ventures (WEV) to premiere a childcare business curriculum in Spanish in March. Free CPR training for child caregivers will also be available. Please check the Library’s calendar at sbplibrary.org to find out more about our upcoming events.

Visit the Santa Barbara Public Library online at SBPLibrary.org for information about programs and services. All library programs are free and open to the public.



Contact Info


735 Anacapa Street
Santa Barbara, CA 93101 

P: (805) 963-0611
F: (805) 564-5475

Lisa Gonzalez, Senior Librarian for Youth Services