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. Did you know that? I hadn’t thought much about it until I started researching libraries for this article. 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 three libraries in the East-to-SE Metro that have been recipients of these “Play and Learn” grants to see what kind of enrichment they’re offering:
Library: RH Stafford Branch of the Washington County Library | Woodbury
Space: Smart Play Spot designed by the Children’s Museum of Minnesota
Details: 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 Smart Play Spot incorporates the six domains of Minnesota’s Early Childhood Indicators of Progress (reading, playing, singing, writing and talking) with imaginative play opportunities.
Library: Park Grove Branch of the Washington County Library | Cottage Grove
Space: An interactive “Play and Learn Space”
Details: 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.
Library: South St. Paul Library
Space: An indoor space to promote imaginative play experiences
Details: My 3-year-old loved the play cafe, navigating with the pretend rocket ship, and choosing books in “The Little Room”, a space dedicated to youngsters.
These are just three 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
Maplewood Library | Ramsey County
Mississippi Library | Fridley, Anoka County
North Regional Library | Minneapolis, Hennepin County
Rondo Library | St Paul Public Library
Sun Ray Library | St Paul Public Library
Wescott Library | Eagan, Dakota County Library
01/24/2017 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.