Is your library ready to play?
Santa Clara City Library recently received a grant administered through the California State Library to implement Family Place. The Family Place network currently consists of more than 300 libraries in 22 states, and continues to grow. Family Place is an initiative to make public libraries an inviting destination and vital community resource for children under five and their families. A component of a Family Place Library is a collection of toys, kept in a specially designed area within the children’s department that welcomes families with young children. The toys do not check out, but rather are available for play during all open hours.
Much research has been done regarding the importance of play to a child’s early development. Children learn socialization, problem solving, and spatial relations through play. Play also develops critical fine and gross motor skills, and allows children to use their imagination and exercise their creativity. The right toy can foster the six early literacy skills much as a book can. For instance, our Family Place area features an alphabet abacus that teaches letter awareness. Children build their vocabularies and narrative skills when they tell stories with our puppets or cook a meal in our play kitchen. I’ve witnessed amazingly creative play between the parents and children using Family Place. As we learned in Family Place training, simple toys do really inspire the most complex play.
Other play initiatives can be found at public libraries across the country. Rancho Cucamonga Public Library received a grant from the California State Library to build four “Play and Learn” islands. Themes of these islands include Discovery Dig, Make it Move, and Build Big. These islands can be borrowed by other California public libraries.
Many of our patrons have expressed absolute delight over the addition of toys to our children’s department. Yet I have received some not-so-favorable comments from parents who are accustomed to a more traditional library environment and are concerned that toys distract children from reading and books. I believe books and toys can go hand-in-hand when developing a young reader and will continue to advocate for play in the library, but understand that others might disagree.
Are you playing in your library? What toys have proved most popular? What have been your patrons’ reactions?
Susan Baier, Division Manager of Youth and Extension Services
Santa Clara (CA) City Library