Twin Cities Libraries: “Play and Learn” Spaces

Children's section at Shoreview Library, Minnesota

When the term “library” comes to mind, the action word “read” probably follows. Most likely the word “play” does not follow (perhaps because, at least in my family, playing is often a rowdy, non-library-friendly activity). However, according to the developers of various “Play and Learn” sites installed at several Twin Cities-area libraries, play is paramount when it comes to children’s reading readiness. I hadn’t thought much about that until I started researching libraries for this list. But it makes sense. Play is essential in supporting storytelling, which boosts vocabulary and uses their imaginations to work out real world experiences. My preschooler and I observed National Library Week by visiting libraries throughout the Twin Cities Metro that have been recipients of these “Play and Learn” grants to see what kind of enrichment they’re offering:

Featured Partner: Music Together in the Valley 

Music Together: Exciting, award-winning music and movement classes for infants, toddlers, preschoolers, K-2nd graders—and the grownups who love them! Completely online for the Winter 2021 Session.

It’s safe, convenient, engaging, effective, stress relieving, connection building and totally fun. Even though your teacher is on the screen, each class is designed to be an active music-making experience for the whole family. Tuition includes one live 30-minute class each week plus weekly Tuesday evening ‘Musical Play Dates’ and Thursday evening ‘Songs, Stories and Lullabies’ and every other week Saturday night dance parties. FUN!

Free demonstration classes anytime at under ‘Demos.’

Many Twin Cities Libraries have begun to reopen for limited services in the fall of 2020. However, we are not aware of any that are open for play. Keep this list in mind for the future.

St Paul Public Libraries

Highland Park Library

Thanks to a recent remodel, the Highland Park branch got a brand-new children’s space. The library is housed inside the neighborhood’s expanded community center and also offers a new outdoor playground, a story time room, a reading garden and public art.

Sun Ray Library

Sun Ray is one of the branches of the St Paul Public Library that has a children’s area dedicated to hands-on play. The colorful toddler nook overlooks the outdoor green space where families can borrow a Nature Smart backpack and explore. Indoors, play at an ice cream shop, find walls of word games, and browse stacks upon stacks of books.

George Latimer Central Library

George Latimer Central Library has introduced new Early Literacy Toys to its children’s room. They’ve added a veterinary clinic just for little ones, including vet tools like stethoscopes and blood pressure cuffs, an exam table, and even an x-ray station. The library encourages parents to enjoy this opportunity to learn and play with their little ones while building skills to begin kindergarten.

Ramsey County Libraries

Maplewood Library

At Maplewood’s Smart Play Spot, kids might grow a garden of colorful veggies, then take them back to the “kitchen” to whip up a meal. Or, climb inside a hollow tree and discover what critters might call it home.

Roseville Library

Oh, the memories we have of the Roseville branch. I still recall bringing my babies to storytime in the old children’s room. The 2010 expansion doubled, maybe even tripled the size of the kid-friendly space which now includes numerous nooks to read, play and learn.

Shoreview Library

The new regional library opened its doors on Jan 28, 2017, after operating in a smaller adjacent building since the early ’90s. The space has a large children’s area with colorful seating and tall windows to let in plenty of natural light. A small, interactive treehouse play structure has been installed by the Minnesota Children’s Museum and books for young readers are arranged horizontally for easier access.


Hennepin County Libraries

North Regional Library | Minneapolis

Best suited for preschoolers is the beautiful Early Learning Environment. Long after her older siblings took off for the bookshelves, my 3-year-old was busy whipping up picnics for me, planting veggies in the garden, and exploring the alphabet market. Other stations included a café, dance studio, and fire station to encourage the building of literacy skills through dramatic play.

Brooklyn Park Library

Be blown away by the “wind tunnel” and create instant, illuminated art on the giant Lite-Brite Wall. This library location was recently completely rebuilt and updated with fun and educational spaces for kids.

Dakota County Libraries

Galaxie Library | Apple Valley

In the kid-sized amphitheater at the Galaxie Library, we’re reminded to “Read, Play, Sing & Talk” to develop early reading skills. Young storytellers can put on their own show. The very youngest visitors have a room all their own to explore with hands-on exhibits at just the right height.

The library completed a renovation in September of 2018 that includes an improved children’s area. New features include large colored-light designs on a Lite-Brite wall, and a giant magnetic wall with oversized magnets. Learn more about the renovation here.

Wescott Library | Eagan

The Minnesota Children’s Museum had a hand in designing the many interactive play spaces within the library’s large children’s room. Kids can suit up and deliver the mail, take an airplane trip and go on a scavenger hunt through colorful wall murals. There’s much to do and lots of space to do it in at this branch of the Dakota County Library.

South St. Paul Library

The near-century old independent library has a charming space to promote imaginative play experiences. My preschooler loved navigating with the pretend rocket ship and choosing books in “The Little Room”, a cozy space lined with bookshelves and dedicated to youngsters.

Washington County Libraries

Park Grove Library | Cottage Grove

Small, quiet spaces encourage letter and number recognition, a cozy place to curl up and read, and a collection of manipulatives specially designed for infants and toddlers.

Park Grove Library - play and learn

RH Stafford Library | Woodbury

We have been notified that the Smart Play Spot has been removed from this library.

The library’s Smart Play Spot was designed by the Children’s Museum of Minnesota. Shop at an alphabet outdoor farmers market, camp out with cuddly critters in a tree house, drive a motor boat and explore Washington County Parks. The space incorporates the six domains of Minnesota’s Early Childhood Indicators of Progress (reading, playing, singing, writing and talking) with imaginative play opportunities.

These are just a few of the spaces carved out at local libraries for kids to work their imaginations, plump up their vocabularies, and prepare or enhance their reading success. Do you have a favorite branch that promotes play? Let us know so we can share!

Additional libraries with Play and Learn spaces:
Hopkins Library | Hennepin County Library
Mississippi Library | Fridley, Anoka County
Rondo Library | St Paul Public Library
Shakopee Library | Scott County Library


3 thoughts on “Twin Cities Libraries: “Play and Learn” Spaces”

  1. Thanks for visiting! We’re so glad your family enjoyed our Play and Learn space. Check back in May to see our current cafe reimagined as a flower shop and create fun bouquets! 🙂
    -Miss Amy
    Youth Services Librarian, South St. Paul Public Library

  2. Thank you for visiting and playing in our play spaces at R.H. Stafford and Park Grove. We are really excited about these new spaces and love seeing the way kids and families engage in playful learning at the library.
    -“Miss Dawn”
    Youth Services Coordinator, Washington County Library

  3. Pingback: “Play and Learn” Spaces at Twin Cities-Area Libraries | Mouse Holiday

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