Early Learning Area?
Seventh Circle of the Underworld?
Play areas for the youngest library patrons are most common in public libraries, although some school libraries have them as well. They range from the simple: an area rug with a train table or puppet theater and some puzzles; to the elaborate: dedicated themed spaces, with corporate sponsors, that are changed out on a quarterly basis.
With our recently completed remodel and expansion my library created a new, dedicated, larger space for creative play. It has quickly become one of the most popular spots in the library. There are busy times where we have upwards of 40 people (children and caregivers) in the space at once. Mornings are usually the most hectic. It can be quite lively at times. (Okay, maybe raucous is a more accurate descriptor.)
Located in the youth services department, it offers an engaging, free, indoor space for children to explore creative play. It is tucked into a far corner of the department, adjacent to the picture book and board book collections.This spot helps to reduce noise carrying through the library.
It has full walls on three sides, and pony wall on the fourth to help contain noise (and runaways!). Our play area is roughly 13’ x 16’ and includes two family style restrooms, a nursing room, and an entrance to our storytime room.
Permanent features include a large combination train and LEGO table. It is both durable and substantial. We are confident that it will stand up to abuse. We also have a play house that inspires a lot of imaginative play. There is a pint-sized tunnel / door that is enjoyed by many of the kids visiting.
On the technology side we have a koi pond projector. It is really fun to watch the little ones try to chase and catch the fish. My favorite piece in the play are is our Everbright interactive light board. Inspired by the classic lite brite toy, it has dials that, when turned, change colors. You can make all kinds of cool images, or, just watch the colors change.
There is a revolving collection of toys, which include puzzles, play vehicles, giant blocks, play food, dinosaurs and jungle animals, play food, a magnet board, puppets.
Another fun corner of the play area changes every couple of months. So far we’ve had a grocery store, a veterinarian’s office, and a sandwich shop.
For the caregivers we offer comfy seating, a counter with stools that overlooks the play area. The counter has outlets and a charging station for devices. Many adults, and older siblings take advantage of this spot to get work done. We also have a browsing collection current adult magazines.
For the staff we have security cameras to monitor activity. It really helps to be able to see when young adventurers decide to scale that play house. The pony wall is also a boon to staff, as mentioned above, because of noise and runaways.
The rules of conduct are pretty straightforward:
Caregivers need to monitor their charges.
No food. (The library has a cafe area where patrons can eat.)
Covered drinks only. (We did get a specially treated carpet that repels liquids, but why tempt fate?)
Noise kept to a dull roar (“inside voices, please” says Miss Alexa).
No hitting. (Admittedly a challenge on some days.)
Clean up after you have finished playing. (We offer stickers as incentive to our helpers.)
It has boosted library use, and brought in repeat visitors from neighboring library districts. Our play area has become a destination for area families. Most importantly, our youngest patrons have a location where they can engage in creative play.
The remoteness of room. This is both a benefit and a drawback, to be honest. The drawback is that it isn’t in our direct line of sight. The security cameras help alleviate the problem. The camera help me last night, when I spotted a youngster climbing on the roof of the play house. I had to run full out to get there before he fell. I then had to coax him to climb down. The other drawback is destruction of toys and creative play items. Our play items are well used and over loved. Sometimes we even joke that there is a mystery element in the local water supply that gives the kids super strength. But, this is, in the long run the desired outcome of the play area. We want it to be used.
Do you have one? What’s your take?
Do you have a play area in your library? How big is it? Is it simple or elaborate?
Can you offer any advice to librarians who are thinking about creating a play area one from scratch, or for those that are considering a revamp or remodel?