Providing warm and inviting play spaces in our libraries is an important factor in promoting family engagement. Families and caregivers like to see a beautiful and safe area where they can play and interact with their children and other customers. Keeping this area clean and neat is important to its appeal. How can we do this, with everything else we have to do?
It is important to make sure that everyone working in your library has a stake in keeping this area in prime shape. Librarians, circulation staff, building and groundskeepers, pages, and volunteers can all ensure that area is neat throughout the day. If you have a play-and-learn space with age appropriate toys for young children and literature for caregivers in your branch, make its maintenance a simple part of your staff’s daily routine. Upkeep of this area should be a part of the schedule the same as weeding, merchandising, shelving, or roving.
There should be a regular cleaning posted schedule of materials that need to be cleaned, daily, weekly, and as-needed. In ALA’s Power of Play: Designing Early Learning Spaces, authors Stoltz, Conner and Bradberry suggest having a “Sanitize Me” bin available for caregivers to place toys that children have put into their mouths. This could be placed near the play area or at the information desk. Staff then know that these toys must be cleaned immediately before returning them to the play area. A product that is safe for young children and kills germs is Clorox’s Anywhere Hard Surface Daily Sanitizing Spray. Simply spray it on toys and allow it to dry. It is made by Clorox, but is NOT bleach. This spray is also good to use daily on all hard toys, either before opening or after closing. Remember that you must allow some time for the toys to dry.
Plastic or finished play wooden furniture can be wiped down daily with Lysol Disinfectant Wipes. Puppets and dress up clothes can be machine laundered as needed in a gentle, non-fragrance detergent or hand washed with a mild hand soap and allowed to dry. If you see some plastic toys that really need a deep cleaning, use a gentle soap and wash them in a bucket. You may be able to recruit some young customers to help you “wash the cars and dishes”. Staff can also use storytimes or clean-up times before closing to demonstrate to caregivers how singing a clean up song, matching toys to the pictures on the bins, or making a game of picking up toys of the same colors all promote pre-reading/school readiness skills and makes tidying up fun!
Having all staff keep an eye out for the play-and-learn area allows for a sparkling, inspiring environment that everyone wants to visit. Young children learn best through play and exploration. It is a privilege to provide spaces for their parents and caregivers to relax and learn together. Although, not the most glamorous of topics, dedication to the maintenance and safety of play centers demonstrates a commitment of the library to early learning and kindergarten readiness.
Pamela Hamlin is a member of ALSC’s Early Childhood Programs and Services Committee since 2016. She is currently the Family Literacy Specialist at the Prince George’s County Memorial Library System in Maryland.