Blogger Kiera Parrott

Play Boxes: Mini Playspaces in Your Library

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!

Soup's on! Wooden play food and a few simply supplies allow hours of creative play.
Soup’s on! Wooden play food and a few simply supplies allow hours of creative play.

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.

Magnetic paint transformed this wall.
Magnetic paint transformed this wall. When not in use, the foam letters live in the Alphabet Box on the shelf above.

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



  1. Valerie Mathre

    Thank you for your timely comment. We may incorporate some of your ideas into our current itsy, bitsy play space.

  2. Kendra

    I really like this idea. I have seen other libraries set up centres, but as you say, there isn’t always space for that type of invasion. I was wondering if you are willing to share the cards you put in the boxes. You can email me at kendra [dot] wgpl [at] gmail [dot] com. Thanks.

  3. Kathy K

    These are terrific. These are materials that will directly and effectively support child development. Thank you for this post!

  4. Andrea

    Great ideas Kendra! We’re working on a similar project to rotate amongst our branches. We don’t have the space to have a large toy that takes up floor space. But we’re developing boxes to launch this summer along the same lines! I appreciate the ideas and like Kendra, would love to see the parent cards if you don’t mind. andreav [at] kpl [dot] gov.

  5. Andrea

    Sorry I just realized I wrote Kendra in the beginning of my comment. I mean “Kiera”. I do honestly know who is who. 🙂

  6. Stacey

    Love this idea! Can you share those parent cards? We are looking to try this in our Children’s Room. Would appreciate any help you can give. My email is “smartin” at “” – thanks!

  7. Kiera Parrott

    Hi All,

    Thank you so much for your supportive comments! And I’m more than happy to share.
    I am working now on getting a nice PDF version of all the cards. As soon as I can pull that together I will upload it here so that it is easily accessible.


  8. Aline Gallaugher

    I’d also lova a copy of those cards if they’re still available. I can be reached at quintano at gmail dot com

    Thanks! 🙂

  9. Dolly

    I love the magnetic wall idea! I’m thinking about doing the same in my library. Where did you get the giant magnetic letters?

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