Kristin Grabarek | Movers & Shakers 2020–Educators

When Kristin Grabarek noticed that traditional story time activities at her branch of Denver Public Library  weren’t drawing the community’s many immigrant families, she created a new learning experience that didn’t require English language skills to participate. These half-hour Saturday morning sessions (called Little University) are built around play and exploration, and each also targets a social-emotional skill. An add-on, Little University for Grown-Ups, is aimed at caregivers.

Sidsel Bech-Petersen

CURRENT POSITION

Librarian, Schlessman Family Branch, Denver Public Library

DEGREE

MLIS, University of Denver, 2012

HONORS

 Colorado Libraries for Early Literacy (CLEL) Hero Award, 2019

COAUTHOR

Early Learning Through Play: Library Programming for Diverse Communities (Libraries Unlimited, 2019), with Mary Lanni

FOLLOW

clel.org/single-post/2018/12/28/Play-More-Learn-More-An-Interview-with-Kristin-Grabarek-creator-of-Little-University

Photo by Jason Miller

 

Play, Explore, Learn

When Kristin Grabarek noticed that traditional story time activities at her branch of Denver Public Library (DPL) weren’t drawing the community’s many immigrant families, she created a new learning experience that didn’t require English language skills to participate. These half-hour Saturday morning sessions (called Little University) are built around play and exploration, and each also targets a social-emotional skill. An add-on, Little University for Grown-Ups, is aimed at caregivers.

"It’s no secret that children in affluent families often have a dramatically different experience than children in disadvantaged families," she observes. "Little University…bridges that gap. It provides high-quality early learning opportunities to any curious family, for free—so that any baby, toddler, or preschooler… can touch a wild animal, try a yoga pose, or make a healthy recipe."

When Grabarek began the program, she wasn’t sure how she’d pull it off: She had no budget and no model to prove her approach would work. Now, five years later, her ideas are shaping early learning opportunities throughout the DPL system and beyond. She attributes this success to building authentic relationships with families and creatively leveraging community resources, like her partnerships with local shop owners, a yoga teacher, the Colorado Ballet, and the Denver Zoo.

Grabarek is inspired by the stories families tell her about a success their child has had as a result of attending Little University. "A sparked interest in soccer, or talking aloud in a group setting after extensive work elsewhere with a speech therapist—these snippets of lasting impact keep me excited to continue this work," she says. 

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