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Libraries offer free transportation to any place and any time in history – including the future. You can learn a new skill, explore the best version of yourself, dream, grow and play make believe, no matter how old you are.

September is National Library Card Sign-Up Month and it is the perfect to time to get a card, get an online account and open a world of possibilities.

Karen Allen, youth services manager for the Greenville County Library System, said Greenville County residents can get their first library card at age 5. Ages 5 – 17 need a parent or guardian to fill out an application and show identification.

“It’s a special time, right when they start school,” she said. “You can be too young for a library card, but you’re not too young for books ever.”

Allen said every location of the Greenville County Library System has a selection of EZ Reader books, which are leveled readers that help children practice. Older children can do research and check out books. Those activities still matter, even in the age of the internet.

The youngest library visitors have plenty of program options to keep them engaged as well, including story times, music, play and movement. The programs are free and are offered at every location. In addition to giving parents a chance to meet, preschool programs engage children in books, which can foster a lifelong love of reading and help them be prepared for school.

“Eighty percent of brain growth occurs in the first three years of life,” Allen said.

Allen said parents of reluctant readers should consider starting with the child’s interests and choosing books that correspond.

“For any child that doesn’t seem all that interested, think about what they are interested in,” Allen said. “Start off with simple nonfiction books.”

For older, school-aged children, the library is a gateway to all sorts of free resources.

With a library card, users can log in from a home computer to access downloadable ebooks, audio books, free music, movies, magazines and more.

“You can set the magazines up to come into your device with every new issue,” Allen said. “We have a lot of great things you can do with your library card.”

Todd Stephens, County Librarian for Spartanburg County, said engaging children in their library gives them an opportunity to experience more than books.

“I think public libraries as a com­munity resource are important to ex­­pose children to at a young age,” he said. “It exposes them to their community. That direct exposure is critical to young minds as they develop — that they are part of something bigger than themselves. It’s not just reading. It’s infor­mation literacy.”

Spartanburg County residents (and some just outside the county but in certain zip codes) can get a juvenile restricted card from birth.

“The day they are born, bring them in,” Stephens said.

Parents might not want to schedule a library visit on the first day — but soon.

“Those first three years are critical,” Stephens said. “Reading to children is critical. It helps with development as far as their brain is concerned. It’s not all about reading. It’s about a healthy environment and being able to play and sing.”

Free programs give children ample opportunity for that and they also help parents learn to model the good habit of reading.

“We have programs around making things, using fine motor skills and creating something, whether it’s art or something functional,” Stephens said.

Both Greenville and Spartanburg library systems offer a variety of online programs, including language learning, music, magazines and more.

•For Greenville County Library programs, a calendar of children’s programs and more, visit greenvillelibrary.org.

•Need help finding a book for your child’s reading level? Visit greenvillelibrary.org/kids/find-a-book for tips, including a Five-Finger Test.

•For Spartanburg County Library programs, a calendar of children’s programs and more, visit spartanburglibraries.org.

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