Blogger Susan Baier

Get Your Play on @ Your Library!

A sign in my library's Family Place play area

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


  1. JH

    We currently have a Thomas Train that is very popular. We also have storybook themed stuffed dolls like Arthur, DW, Buster, Cat in the Hat, and Clifford. Soft blocks and puzzles are also a must. The one thing that stood out for me from my LIS classes was Stephenson’s Play Theory. I really believe that learning has a greater impact when delivered through play. We try to have items that are somehow connected to books. BTW there are also LEGO storybooks as well as design books, so yes, we have LEGOs.

  2. Lisa Bigelow

    I work at the Wilmette Public Library in Illinois, and we do take the angle that imaginative play is a crucial pre-literacy skill. Our dollhouse is probably our most popular toy. We also have puppets (no stage), soft blocks, puzzles, and alphabet carpet squares. Soon we’ll be adding a magnet board with letters, numbers, and story pieces. I think we do quite a bit with our limited space while keeping the cost pretty low. Sometimes newcomers do complain about the activity level, but considering that we have other quiet reading spaces, we don’t feel like we’re putting anyone out too much (though sometimes they act like it).

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