Libraries across the nation are incorporating play into their children’s spaces. Inviting families to play at your library will often create some undesired consequences. It is important to be prepared to deal with issues before they arise.
- Parents leaving children unattended–When you create a child friendly environment with toys and activities for kids, some parents may think of it as a safe place to leave their children, they may even think of the librarian as a childcare provider. Research your State law regarding unattended children. Make sure you and your staff are able to recite the law to parents when they attempt to leave their small child. You may also want to research the law on children supervising younger children. At our branch we post a sign with both laws and enforce them when necessary. Have a policy in place so that you are prepared.
- Increased noise level–When children play they can become loud, often they are not doing it on purpose. They get carried away and need reminders to lower the volume of their voice. If you have an open space that is adjacent to the rest of the library you may have to be more strict than if you have a designated children’s section. When reminding children to lower their voices, I start with the child. Then if they continue to be loud I involve the parent. If all else fails, I ask the parent and child to take a break from the children’s section to calm down. Libraries are known to be quiet places and upsetting this expectation with children’s playful voices and laughter can be upsetting to some staff and customers. We go by the basic rule of thumb that if they are playing and interacting with the centers and engaged in meaningful play then we allow kids to be kids. If they are yelling, screaming or making noise just for the sake of noise, we cask them and/or the parent to quiet down or take a break.
- What a Mess! Of course when you add toys to your space you will have toys to clean up. Encourage families to clean up be offering a stamp or sticker when they clean up after themselves. The down and dirty of it all is that library staff will have to clean up. Whoever is working in the children’s section can clean up before their desk time is over or when they first start their shift. If you keep the toys in a neat and orderly way you will find that your customers are more likely to clean up after themselves.
- Toys end up missing or broken often when they are used by so many children and families. Sometimes little ones sneak a block or puzzle piece out of the library in their pocket or stroller, usually not on purpose. Of course, there will also be wear and tear on the pieces and you will have to plan for replacements. This requires putting a simple budget together for maintenance of your centers. I suggest taking a quick inventory of your centers monthly and replacing what is missing or broken. When you order items for your centers, order a little extra so that you will have replacements. For example, if you plan to have 3 puzzles out at a time order 5-6 so that you will have a replacement if needed. Caring for your missing or broken center items is just like caring for your collection. If something is lost or damaged, we replace it!
All of these undesired consequences can be simplified by being prepared both physically and mentally. Address them with staff before they happen so that they are empowered to deal with each situation as it arises.
What undesired behaviors have you encountered with your play and learning spaces? How did you handle it?
Play is vital to our children’s place. We are fortunate and have fabulous Volunteens who are regularly scheduled (and often drop in) to help us tidy up and restore the toy/block/dress up/puppet/craft areas. It’s often lots of fun to see how they organize stuff and recreate the space. Caregivers help a good deal too, but sometimes it’s just more important to go when everyone has had enough. 🙂 The trick is to get in and straighten up before the next wave so that most families find the place as neat as we would like them to leave it.