This past month, my library system has allowed certain toys (plastic, easily washed) to come back on the floor and to be used in programming, with daily (or more) cleaning.
Parents and children alike are delighted, and library staff rejoiced that our baby playtimes can return. Several branches are designated Family Place Libraries, and we had been holding socially distanced “play” programs that aimed to give parents tools to guide their children in play, but which were certainly not as robust and developmentally appropriate as a full playtime.
As I watched toddlers play together, some for the first time in a social environment, it always surprises me how the children’s play “evolves” from one week to the next in the five-week session. Researcher Mildred Parten developed a Stages of Play theory that helpfully describes the changes I see throughout the program.
Most little ones, especially if they have never experienced a play group before, either start as an onlooker, or engage in solitary play. They play by themselves and don’t seem very interested in what other children are doing.
However, by week two, caregivers start talking to each other and, through librarian coaching, caregivers are also engaging in their child’s play. This combination often leads to parallel play. Children begin to play closer to each other. They watch each other and may occasionally share, but they are not truly playing with each other.
By the fifth and final week, several of the older toddlers will start to truly interact with others. After five weeks, they have grown comfortable enough to share toys and take turns. They move into associative play.
As toys find their way back to our libraries, or as the warm weather may allow for outdoor programming, let’s consider how we let children who may have been isolated over the pandemic experience the social, emotional, and early literacy learning that take place through play.
What play programs are you planning at your library this summer?
This post addresses the core competency of I. Commitment to Client Group, III. Programming Skills, and V. Outreach and Advocacy.