Commitment to Client Group

Toddler Exploration – Play

I started working in a brand new library in June, and it has led me to rethink offering a million story times. I work in a busy, urban branch that is densely populated with crowds of nannies and children looking for entertainment. My library is also located within a ten-minute walk of the zoo, so we get are in a high traffic area!I had been thinking a lot about what the purpose and or point of story time is. It seems sometimes that we are asking patrons and community to care about early literacy in the way we present it—- but it is much more multifaceted than that!

Early literacy has long meant story time for libraries. It’s where we use our early literacy skills to educate and model best practices for children and caregivers. But when you work in a busy city branch accommodating hundreds of children a week, story time can sometimes lose its luster.

Enter, Toddler Exploration:

Part Play, Part Dance, Part Art, and Part Sensory Experiences. All in all, four iterations of one wonderful program!  For the next few months, I will feature one iteration so that you can see exactly how to use and replicate in your locations!


Play and Sensory are all about stations– typically, I have around 4-6 different stations of activities. While this program is specifically targeted to toddlers, I scaffold the activities from babies to preschoolers because at a public library- you have no real control over your audience and it also helps the different levels of interest with kids.

I have had three cycles of Toddler Exploration— so at least three versions of play.

The first cycle was pretty basic (I was actually at ALA, and my coworker had to fill in– which is ONE of the many great things about this program– anyone can do it!) She put out special puzzles that we don’t normally put out, puppets, interlocking blocks, Legos, and wrapped the tables for drawing.

Second cycle: I put out a felt board and random felt sets from a box of Nursery Rhymes we had, puppets, wrapped tables, plastic hats for dramatic play, interlocking blocks, and puzzles.

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Third cycle: I had much more fun with it! Pretend ice cream station: (tins, cotton balls, packing peanuts, spoons, clean yogurt containers & felt money [target impulse purchase] pom poms, and beads for sprinkles), letter writing station and a fake mailbox, parachute with scarves, puppets, and interlocking blocks.

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I make sure to walk around the room to engage with the kids by asking them questions about their play and building on their stories as a way to model this behavior to parents and adults. I also engaged with parents and adults to talk about my inspiration for the activities and how I stretched my money in the activities or how they could replicate these stations at home. I especially liked to point out when their child really liked an activity so that I could suggest similar activities or point out the early literacy skill they were using.

Unstructured playtime is so important for children to develop emotional skills and to process components of early literacy.

Highlights of play: scarves (I love seeing parents engage with playing peek a boo or using them to tossing them in the air), a card station with play mailbox, and a pretend ice cream making station.

The best part is all the fun that I am having! I have always felt like a kid, because I still would love to play with a room full of Barbies or a play kitchen, and my zest for play is felt in the thoughtful program components. I love hearing from both children “It looks fun in here” exclaimed a jubilant 3 year old, followed by her 18 month old sister saying, “It fun here!’ and adults that they love the different activities and are impressed with all the thought put in to them!

These programs are very low cost– you can use items you already own but don’t often put out! I did splurge for some Target felts, and a random fake ice cream sandcastle set that was on sale! There is a temptation to buy all the cute stuff– but children’s staff is so creative and talented, they can easily replicate activities or come up with your own ideas! Let me know if you have any good ones!


Photo of guest blogger,
Photo courtesy of Amy Steinbauer

Amy Steinbauer is a Children’s Librarian for D.C. Public Library, where she does weekly baby and toddler story times and Toddler Exploration programs. She got her MLIS from University of Hawaii (it was an amazing choice despite the loans). She is currently on ALA Council. In her spare time, she is always thinking of new story time or early literacy ideas and rewatching Bob’s Burgers.

Please note that as a guest post, the views expressed here do not represent the official position of ALA or ALSC.

If you’d like to write a guest post for the ALSC Blog, please contact Mary Voors, ALSC Blog manager, at


This post addresses the following ALSC Core Competencies: I. Commitment to Client Group, II. Reference and User Services, and III. Programming Skills.

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