In “Five Essentials for Meaningful Play,” experts in early childhood education Marcia L. Nell and Walter F. Drew describe how the “sense of the unknown provides children with opportunities to develop flexibility in their thinking and decision making, which is a vital life skill.” When they are given the opportunity to freely explore, children will more easily learn the valuable 21st century skills they need for the constantly changing future. Libraries can encourage talents such as creative problem solving, teamwork, entrepreneurship and resource sharing more easily than many schools, and have fun while doing so!
In the rush to raise test scores it can be easy to forget that school age children need time for creative play to enhance learning just as much as younger children. Interactive, hands-on items that encourage imagination and problem-solving are a key component of library programs designed for 21st century skill building. This is why the South Carolina State Library has intentionally curated a Library of Things involving not only trending technology and games, but learning materials such as LEGO®, KEVA Planks, Rigamajigs, and build-your-own marble mazes. These items are circulated to public libraries around the state to use for events, and then returned. Many libraries, once they have used a kit a few times, will then purchase their own because they have seen the value of that particular item.
LEGO® continues to be a popular choice and can be intentionally used in a variety of programs. Read Iggy Peck, Architect, by Andrea Beaty, print out pictures of some of the more famous buildings he designed, and then encourage children to create their own. Another suggestion is to share Secret Engineer: How Emily Roebling Built the Brooklyn Bridge, by Rachel Dougherty, and have a bridge building contest.
We added Rigamajigs at the request of a library staff person, and they have been incredible! Large wooden wheels, pulleys and bolts along with other pieces that all fit together, they are great for free play and kindergarteners love them.
If you have never seen KEVA planks, I encourage you to find some today! They are great for all ages, in fact, I keep some at my desk to occupy my hands when I’m trying to think. We always take some along when doing a Virtual Reality program, it provides a nice break from the intense immersive experience of a virtual reality headset.
What suggestions do you have for using objects to encourage children to learn as they play?
This post addresses the ALSC Core Competency: III Programming Skills.
Rebecca Antill is the Youth Services Consultant in the Library Development department of the South Carolina State Library. She received her Master’s in Library and Information Science from Kent State University in Kent, Ohio, and has been working or volunteering in libraries since the age of eleven. Rebecca has worked in public libraries of all sizes in Ohio, North Carolina, and most recently Charleston, SC.