Discovery Bags at Kealakekua library offer new ways for families to learn

  • Katie Vitousek looks through a book included in a Discovery Bag Thursday at tke Kealakekua Public Library. (Laura Ruminski/West Hawaii Today)

  • LAURA RUMINSKI/West Hawaii Today

    Library assistant Stacy Bisgard displays items from one of the Discovery Bags available at the Kealakekua Public Library.

KEALAKEKUA From setting sail with pirates to going back to the time of dinosaurs or blasting off into outer space, a new program at the Kealakekua Public Library is giving keiki and their families a chance to learn and explore the world together in a fun, engaging way.

The library’s 30 “Discovery Bags” became available April 3, and three already were checked out.

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“Libraries want to be a part of the community, and this is a wonderful way to do it,” said Judy Andrews, branch manager at the Kealakekua library. “I have also worked in school libraries, and so anything that brings education or imagination — all those kinds of things — into our community is just so important, and I think that this is a wonderful thing.”

The Discovery Bags, aimed at children ages 3 to elementary school, cover a number of themes and topics such as cooking, veterinarians and music, as well as bags based on children’s programs including “Paw Patrol” and “Peppa Pig.” There’s also a bag aimed at children ages 0-18 months.

Every bag includes at least one book as well as activities that families can share with their kids.

“It gives parents and children a time to extend just from a book to an activity,” Andrews said. “Because one of the things is that we want our kids to be active, and we want to extend that knowledge.”

The program was spearheaded by frequent library patron Katie Vitousek, who said she was inspired by a similar program she found at a library she visited while in Colorado with her family.

“From a mom point of view, it’s great, you don’t have to go and buy dinosaur stuff,” she said. “You can just bring it home, and when they’re tired of it and they’re into pirates now, you just find the pirate book and switch it up.”

Library assistant Stacy Bisgard said they were on board from the start when Vitousek approached them about the idea last fall.

Club Rehab, where Vitousek works, dedicated its annual holiday donation tree to collecting money and items that could help go toward the bags for the library.

The themes, she said, came about from consulting with her own daughters about what could be fun for children. The library she visited in Colorado, she added, also was a helpful aid in getting the local program going.

The cooking-themed bag, for example, includes a book as well as an apron, shopping basket and a variety of small pots and pans. The veterinarian-themed bag, meanwhile, includes a plush dog, a kennel and plastic veterinary tools and book.

And so far, Bisgard said, the program seems to be a hit.

“The kids are just so excited,” she said. “They’re like, ‘Oh my gosh, which one should I check out?’”

And the bags offer families an exciting way to connect and use the books and activities as a launching pad to learn and play with each other. Vitousek said her family was able to use the ice cream shop themed-bag to read a book about animals who each want different flavors of ice cream and then practice making ice cream scoops with the toys inside.

“So then she started making up all these different flavors, like cheese ice cream for the mouse and nut ice cream for the pigs,” she said. “So it was really cool just to see her imagination go beyond, which I think is another kind of exciting bonus from the bags.”

And it’s fun for her, she said, as a mom watching her daughter’s imagination light up as she learns, discovers and plays.

Andrews said providing that opportunity for children and parents alike to learn and bond over the Discovery Bags is an important part of developing their relationship.

“Any time that parents and child spend together, they learn more about each other,” she said. “And any relationship depends on what you know about that other person.”

Patrons can check out one bag per library card and the bags, which are checked out for three weeks, must be returned to the Kealakekua branch.

The Kealakekua library is the first in the Hawaii Public Library System to offer the Discovery Bags program. Vitousek said if the Kailua-Kona branch is interested, she would like Club Rehab’s holiday donation this year to benefit a Discovery Bags program for that branch.

Andrews said that library is “very, very enthusiastic” about it, and when she mentioned the project at a recent meeting of other branch managers, they were intrigued.

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“And that’s what libraries are all about,” she said. “We share.”

Email Cameron Miculka at cmiculka@westhawaiitoday.com.

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