As youth librarians, we understand the connection between children’s participation in imaginative play and early literacy. Room for this play, however, is difficult to find in smaller library locations where space and storage must compete for shelving, computers, and seating arrangements. At our Hope Mills Branch of the Cumberland County Public Library & Information Center in North Carolina, we don’t have the room in our community facility to house bunches of toys in our collection. Fortunately, our system has devised some creative ways, beyond our traditional story times, to encourage children to play and explore. Both programming and partnerships allow room to foster imaginative play without the need for more physical space.
One of these interactive programs, Preschool Performers, combined dramatic arts and music to develop children’s connection to storytelling. Our young participants acted out scenes from traditional folktales or original short stories. Children also participated in familiar nursery rhymes with accompanying actions, singing and dancing to selections on CD. Attendees manipulated puppets from our professional collection and played an active role in sharing flannel and magnet board stories. Our costumes consisted of minimal supplies; we relied heavily on construction paper masks and paper bag puppets. Our groups practiced once a week for almost a month. An audience of the participants’ families and friends attended a grand performance the evening of their final practice. Children and their families were able to see their names in print as our Community Relations Department created a program for the show.
Our library system adapted this series from programming spearheaded by Madison Public Library in Wisconsin. We presented this program at our Headquarters Library on our stage in our large activity room, but it could easily be set in a conference or story time room at smaller branch locations. The North Carolina Public Library Director’s Association awarded this series the best children’s program from a large library system in our state that year. This programming provided a forum for children to experience the dramatic arts in a relaxed environment.
Our Hope Mills Branch also focuses on play with one of our current programs starring our wildly popular puppet Bobette. Bobette is identical to our story time mascot monkey Bobo; parents reserve her for a few days or a week, allowing their children opportunities to play with Bobette at home. This program allows children to relieve the story time experience as they pretend.
Families involved with this program describe the creative ways their children play through a journal Bobette brings with her to their home. Children delight in celebrating the monkey’s attendance at birthday parties and special events; they also play the role of caregiver for their new friend, combing Bobette’s fur and brushing her teeth. A parent recalled her child’s special recollections with Bobette. “We ate breakfast together. We read a lot of books, and we had a movie night. Bobette is the happiest monkey I ever met, and she always makes me smile.” (Bobette’s favorite food is plastic apples.) This program encourages play at home with little staff involvement.
These programs celebrate exploration and imagination, but our library also brings in toys to our branches during special library programs due to our relationship with the Partnership for Children of Cumberland County’s Resource Lending Library. Youth librarians, early childhood educators, and parents check out a variety of toys, puppets, and smaller playground equipment to use in their work with children. This service allows us to bring in bulky toys we don’t have room to store at our branch during the year. We’ve checked out free musical instruments, dramatic play materials, and science experiments.
Registration to check out these materials is simple, requiring only the completion of a brief application and valid photo identification. Toys may be checked out for two weeks with an option to renew. There are lending libraries offering toys free of charge in many of our communities; many of these resource centers, available through local community colleges and universities, partner with agencies serving their county’s youth. More information about our county’s resource library is available at http://www.ccpfc.org/parents/resources/resource-lending-library.html.
Our smaller branches may not have the physical space available in our larger library locations, but with programming and partnerships, we ensure we promote play for our young library customers and their families. Please share how your library encourages play with limited space!