Blogger Maria Trivisonno


Using blocks to play at the library
Photo rights maintained by the Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC)

‘Tis the season that many of our young patrons open gifts…including lots of toys. So, when brainstorming for a topic, the importance of “play” seemed appropriate.

I have always loved PLAY. One of my earliest memories is walking around the corner Christmas morning when I was three years old and seeing the 1980s version of the Barbie Dream House. I played with that for 9 years. My dolls had three generations of storylines that I played and edited (in the hopes of reaching perfection) time and time again. To this day, my best friend claims that I am the one having the most fun when I play with her kids.

However, my interactions with caregivers and children at the library show that love of play is certainly not universal.  For example, I had a long conversation with a child care provider who lamented that when she brings her charges to a park, they just stand there, having no idea what to do without their electronics. She stated that 20 years ago this was not the case.

Five years ago, I had the opportunity to travel to Middle Country, Long Island, New York to attend training as a Family Place Librarian. (One of the most useful, relevant trainings I have ever attended). My library system has gone “all in” on the importance of exploratory play, and of teaching parents and other caregivers how to become their child’s first teacher. When I started to host our Parent/Child workshops, I realized that play was not intuitive to many of our participating caregivers.

Why does this matter? This article from the May 2017 issue of “Young Children” explains it better than I ever could. It describes how play guided by a caregiver but initiated by the child helps with language development. I remember a good friend teaching his preschool-aged niece what a cantilever was while playing with blocks. She was the first 3-year-old I knew who could use “cantilever” properly in a sentence! Guided play can also help with spatial skills development, and therefore math. Again, blocks can be used to create different shapes, with concepts explained by the adult.

Getting caregivers to interact with young children in a play setting at the library may require some prodding. I had to block off built-in seating in the corner of my story/craft room because parents were gathering there to talk or be on their phones while their children played. Instead, I strategically placed a few chairs amongst the toys (for grandparents and pregnant mothers) and modeled sitting on the floor with the children. I also modeled interacting with the children and encouraged them to show their parents what they were doing. It took a few sessions, but caregivers began to move and interact with their little ones.

Let’s take this toy-filled time of year and encourage caregivers and children to explore the benefits of play!


Hassinger-Das, B., Hirsh-Pasek, K., & Michnick Golinkoff, R. (2017). The Case of Brain Science and Guided Play: A Developing Story. Young Children, 72(2). Retrieved December 26, 2018, from


This article addresses the Core Competency Skills of Programming and Outreach & Advocacy.

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