[kids-lib] Envy play spaces some libraries have? You can create temporary play spaces in your existing space!

Katie Anderson katie.anderson at state.or.us
Wed Apr 1 15:52:06 PDT 2015

Play is one of the five early learning practices that help children develop early literacy skills. Some libraries have the space and funding to create permanent educational play environments, but most of us don’t have the space or the big bucks☹ Below are some ideas for creating temporary, portable education play experiences and environments in your library.

Forest Grove Public Library uses their Ready to Read Grant to pay for their Saturday morning Early Childhood Discovery Time which is essentially a temporary, portable education play space. It includes toys, manipulatives, books, and more around a theme or early learning skill with simple instructions/ideas for parents to make the most of their play time with their children. Discover Time materials are put on a cart that they wheel into the public space in the library for a few hours on Saturday mornings to provide an educational play opportunity. When they’re done, the wheel the cart back into the storage/staff only space.

Any other ideas for libraries with limited space and funding for education play?

Katie Anderson, Youth Services Consultant
Library Support and Development Services<http://www.oregon.gov/osl/LD/pages/index.aspx>
Oregon State Library, 250 Winter St. NE, Salem, OR 97301
katie.anderson at state.or.us<mailto:katie.anderson at state.or.us>, 503-378-2528
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Purposeful Play Programming<http://feedproxy.google.com/~r/AlscBlog/~3/l5mJQrUV56c/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=email>

Posted: 31 Mar 2015 09:01 PM PDT

Ever envy those fabulous, expensive play spaces some libraries have? You can create a temporary, educational play environment within your existing library space that promotes adult interaction, is highly inclusive, and creates opportunities for outreach to the underserved.

Introducing, SMART STARTS!
[Smart Starts (2)]<http://www.alsc.ala.org/blog/2015/04/purposeful-play-programming/smart-starts-2/>[Smart Starts (5)]<http://www.alsc.ala.org/blog/2015/04/purposeful-play-programming/smart-starts-5/>

Three years ago, we founded Smart Starts<http://gepl.org/kids/kids_events/smart_starts>, a hands-on, interactive environment where adults help children develop early reading, writing, math and science skills through fun play activities. This drop-in program is offered several times over the course of a few days during weeks we are not holding storytimes. Patrons can come anytime during the posted hours and stay as long as they wish.

The goal of Smart Starts is to provide a richer, more meaningful library experience where adults can play side-by-side with their children, enhancing learning experiences. Dad John Witte observed, “The chance to interact with other kids in a learning environment is valuable both for the kids and the parents.”

Each Smart Starts program has a theme, developed around an educational focus. Six to eight stations are created for each theme. PowerPoint slideshows display scrolling instructional slides featuring the various stations.

Smart Starts has allowed us to embrace the community’s educational initiatives as well as reach out to the underserved. We encourage community groups to schedule special sessions just for their members.


Wanted: Head Coach. Find a staff member who will lead others in choosing activities and gathering supplies. You could then recruit one person to find science experiments, another to work on crafts and a third to handle parent tips and extension activities, etc. Once planned, various individuals can run the program while it is open. Their role is to help visitors get started and model conversation and play behavior.


Brainstorm themes. These can be derived from educational initiatives in your community or staff interest and expertise. Many of our themes have been STEAM-related. For instance, we have created programs featuring air, measurement, plant growth, patterning and weather. After you have selected themes, search preschool curriculum books and websites for ideas for the activity stations. These might include . . .

Science Experiments

[Smart Starts (9)]<http://www.alsc.ala.org/blog/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/Smart-Starts-9.jpg>Kids love to experiment with hands-on science. We have explored how polar bears stay warm in the arctic, compared the speed of objects traveling down ramps and practiced using all five senses. Imagine a child’s face when they smell cotton balls soaked in vanilla, mint, lemon or garlic!


Offer crafts that can be used to explore the subject further. A kaleidoscope promotes discussions of light. A feeder allows children to observe backyard birds. A texture collage may prompt additional investigation of the five senses at grandma’s house. These crafts should be accessible to a wide range of developmental levels. The emphasis is process, not product. I always say, “If it looks too much like the sample, something is wrong!”

Mini Library

Gather a collection of your library’s books, puzzles, and other resources related to your theme ready for check-out. We set out a couple of beanbag chairs for those who want to curl up with a book. We also provide a sheet explaining the educational research and suggesting extension activities. These materials promote further learning and exploration of the topic at home.


“Go Fish!” Games are a fun way to encourage learning and repeatedly practice skills. Create and laminate your own matching games and sequencing cards. Ask for donations of educational games and puzzles or scout for them at garage sales and re-sale stores. Kids also love to play with real objects made into a game. Sort small, medium and large kitchen items. Match socks or mittens. Make sets of 2, 5 and 10 blocks.

Other Activities

Here’s where you can get creative and courageous! Here are some ideas we have tried – with success!
§ Build walls with stones and play-dough
§ “Mess-free” fingerpaint using instant pudding in a sealed plastic bag
§ Bubblewrap hopscotch
§ Climb in various moving boxes
§ Guess the object based on its shadow
§ “Paint” a chalkboard with water
§ String cereal, beads, dry pasta and straw pieces on chenille wires and bending them into letter shapes
§ Create iSpy games with stickers, beads and sequins
§ Pretend to be a gardener with a shovel, rake, watering can, spray nozzle, silk flowers, etc.
§ Make up narrative stories with puppets or dollhouse figures

Tips for Success

Patrons are delighted that such an enriching program is not only available at the library, but free. Many intentionally add Smart Starts to their weekly schedule and arrange to meet friends. Mom Melissa Drechsel remarked, “I am homeschooling my kindergarten-aged daughters this year and Smart Starts has been the perfect complement to reinforce some of the things we are learning about at home. We have enjoyed the many activities at Smart Starts and I have recommended the program to many other mothers with little ones at home.”
[Smart Starts (8)]<http://www.alsc.ala.org/blog/2015/04/purposeful-play-programming/smart-starts-8/>[Smart Starts (7)]<http://www.alsc.ala.org/blog/2015/04/purposeful-play-programming/smart-starts-7/>[Smart Starts (4)]<http://www.alsc.ala.org/blog/2015/04/purposeful-play-programming/smart-starts-4/>[Smart Starts (3)]<http://www.alsc.ala.org/blog/2015/04/purposeful-play-programming/smart-starts-3/>

This program has also allowed us to interact with our patrons and attract previous non-users in a whole new way. Adults feel more comfortable to ask questions, and children enjoy playing with the library staff in this informal setting. The variety of activities and levels of engagement allows all children to participate, including those with special needs and beginning English language learners. We even host special sessions of Smart Starts for at-risk preschool classes, the local Newcomers chapter and young moms groups from area churches.

Once set-up, we offer the space at various times over the course of a few days. Themes may be repeated every year. This type of program is also be easily modified to a smaller scale or for outreach at local community events.

Author Diane Ackerman wrote, “Play is our brain’s favorite way of learning.” Through activity programs such as Smart Starts, we can provide a fun, educational environment at our libraries to help equip our local children for a life of learning.

(All photos courtesy Glen Ellyn Public Library)

[Photo by Stephanie Blackwell/GEPL]<http://www.alsc.ala.org/blog/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/Bari-Head-Shot-1-EditSB-with-Crop.jpg>

Photo by Stephanie Blackwell/GEPL

Our guest blogger today is Bari Ericson, Youth Programming Associate at the Glen Ellyn Public Library<http://gepl.org/>. Bari enjoys combining her experience as an art student, corporate paralegal, law firm librarian, preschool teacher and mom to serve local families at GEPL.

Please note that as a guest post, the views expressed here do not represent the official position of ALA or ALSC.

If you’d like to write a guest post for the ALSC Blog, please contact Mary Voors, ALSC Blog manager, at alscblog at gmail.com<mailto:alscblog at gmail.com>.

The post Purposeful Play Programming<http://www.alsc.ala.org/blog/2015/04/purposeful-play-programming/> appeared first on ALSC Blog<http://www.alsc.ala.org/blog>.

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