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:
RAMSEY COUNTY LIBRARIES & ST PAUL PUBLIC LIBRARIES
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.
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.
Sun Ray Library | St Paul
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
Mississippi Library | Fridley, Anoka County
Rondo Library | St Paul Public Library
2017 update: George Latimer Central Library has introduced new Early Literacy Toys to its children’s room. Beginning in January, 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.