About a year ago I became fascinated with playspaces popping up in public libraries around the country. Miniature kitchens, corner art stations, neat science-themed installations. Yes! I decided to investigate and see if we could develop a playspace out of my library’s existing Toddler Room.
The problem was twofold: 1) Our existing space already saw a lot of use. With a large carpet and small interactive panels on the walls, parents and caregivers of babies and toddlers loved using the room as it was. I didn’t want to invade their space by introducing giant play sets. And 2) I was wary of those play sets. Many of them are not designed to take the daily abuse that is inevitable in a busy public space. I didn’t want to quickly wind up with a collection of junky looking objects and furniture. Thus was born the idea of Play Boxes!
A Play Box is a themed collection of play objects and manipulatives that are chosen specifically to highlight and enhance early learning. Each box contains themed toys appropriate for babies, toddlers and preschoolers. They also contain laminated prompt cards that explain why play is so important. The cards detail why we chose specific objects and what skills they help develop. The cards also give parents and caregivers tips on how to play with their children.
We painted one wall of our Toddler Room with magnetic paint so that several boxes could utilize magnetic objects. We also had a large shelf installed at grown-up height. The Play Boxes are kept on this shelf to limit mess and keep the floor relatively clear. At my library we are developing about seven boxes so far, although we generally only put out 2 or 3 at a time.
Our initial Play Boxes include:
– Kitchen Box: bowls, cups, large wooden spoon, measuring cups, sponge, wooden play food. The card in this box explains the importance of imaginative and pretend play. Grown-ups are encouraged to ask questions like “What should we make for lunch” and to use rich vocabulary like “asparagus” and “spatula.”
– Alphabet Box: this box contains jumbo foam letters that are magnetic. Children can stick them to the giant magnet wall. The card introduces the concept of Letter Knowledge and how playing with foam letters, tracing, and making the sounds of letters is an important early literacy skill.
– Blocks Box: we purchased a large set of plain wooden blocks from Costco. They are extra large and Montessori-esque. Blocks are one of the best toys for developing an understanding of spatial relations, pre-engineering, and encouraging collaborative social play.
– Music Box: Fisher Price recently began re-releasing classic toys, including their Record Player. This box contains the player as well as some large shaker eggs. The prompt card explains how music and song are wonderful ways to reinforce language and help children strengthen early literacy skills.
In production are a few other boxes: Sensory, Science, Art. The trick is finding materials that are not choking hazards, are easily maintained/cleaned, and can withstand being thrown, stepped on, or chewed.
So far the boxes have been a hit with children and grown-ups. For us it was an easy way to bring the concept of a Playspace to our library without having to invest in large installations. We can add new boxes and experiment with different types of play.
Update: PDF’s of the PlayBox Cards