Taking a break to Play at the Public Library

The benefits of play time for children has been long researched, observed, and promoted by educators, doctors, teachers, and librarians. Written in 2012, this article, “The Importance of Play, Particularly Constructive Play, in Public Library” written by Sue McCleaf Nespeca and published by the American Library Association is an excellent resource for making the case for the importance of play.

Play is even one of the five “magic” words in early child literacy (Write, Talk, Read, Sing, and Play) that we promote in our Storytimes and early literacy education. However, it can be one of the more difficult ones to bring out in the library in our regular Storytime (and similar program) sessions. So how we do add more play time to our library programming? I believe that children’s programs work best when they work as family programs that bring the family together, and families together. To that end, how can Play Time not only promote early literacy, healthy social skills, but also build relationships between child parents and caregivers at the same time?

I have wrote down a new goal this year to have more time built into our library’s programming for play. As the cold Wisconsin winter hit January, I noticed that my Storytime kids were more restless than usual in Storytime sessions. No wonder. I would be too if I was inside all the time to to cold, snow and ice! I got me to thinking about adding an additional program to our calendar. This past week, we started offering a “Baby/Toddler Play Time” at the library. We host it on Tuesday mornings beginning at 10:00 a.m. and it is open to children ages 0-36 months, with activities planned in a separate space for older siblings (For this I have a craft project out and our library’s Legos on the tables in the children’s library so the older kids are close, but in their own separate space.) Our first week we had planned to offer “Baby/Toddler Play Time” it snowed and iced so bad we had to close the library and the highway commission advised everyone in my part of the state to stay inside (see a cause in that restlessness I was talking about?). So, this past Tuesday was our first week we held the program. We had two moms come, not bad for a first time program. I have found it usually takes 3-6 months after we add something new at the library for it to come to our community’s mind as a new resource. For the parents and kids who came, it was a welcome break and a chance for their little ones to gain social skills and for the moms to connect and swap kid antic stories. With the parent’s permission, it also have me an opportunity to take adoreable pictures of their little ones to use in our program promotion on Facebook, flyers, and in the local newspaper where I hope to write an article (more on that soon!)

To prep for the program, I filled out Storytime room with toys and brought out a ball pit and an crawl tunnel that I ordered from Amazon through grant funds. I wanted the kids to have toys that they probably did not have at home to make the experience more magical, and more fun for the parents. I only asked the kids to take off their shoes at the door before playing.

This past Friday I was not able to give a regular Storytime becuase I had to leave for a meeting of the Youth Service Section of the Wisconsin Library Association. So,  although my original plan was to just bring these toys out for Baby/Toddler Play Time, I left them out for Storytime as well. The kids loved it. I gave them about 15 minutes of free play, and then I bought out the parachute. We played “Popcorn Kernels” (Credit: Jbrary) with it for about 10 more minutes, and then the kids wanted to go back to their imagination games. It was a perfect break for me to not have to plan Storytime for a week, and I think it was a welcome break for the kids to have a large room to run and play in.

My goal is add more “constructive play” type objects for the babies/toddlers to play with in our coming future sessions so that the children can construct large objects out of smaller ones, or practice their fine and gross motor skills while pulling scarves out of an empty tissue box, for example. This is a fun goal, and I am looking forward to learning from my colleagues as I add new play games and toys for this young age group.

Has your library offered a Baby/Toddler Play Time? What are your tips and tricks for making it successful?


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