Blogger Early & Family Literacy committee

Play With Babies in Library Spaces

Play is quite possibly my favorite of the five Early Literacy Practices. Not only because it has the boundless freedom to surprise and delight, but also because it naturally incorporates the other 4 practices – talk, sing, read, and write. When you play, especially with a playmate, talk is a natural part of the fun. If you’re anything like me, you also often make up songs about what you’re doing. Playing games such as I spy or tic-tac-toe incorporate reading and writing. There is just so much possibility with play, and I find that endlessly exciting.

My library has been lucky enough to receive a grant from the American Rescue Plan Act to reimagine and redesign our Children’s Library. I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about how to better incorporate play into our (admittedly rather small) space. In my wildest dreams, I want there to be endless opportunities for play. Kids could practice motor skills with a sensory wall, create with blocks like Magnatiles or Duplos, and engage in imaginative play through a pretend grocery store or a play kitchen. There could be trains and musical instruments, a forest-themed reading corner, and more! Thinking about all of the possibilities is both exhilarating and overwhelming. 

But I realized in my wildest dreams of what play could look like, I hadn’t given much thought to a very important group – babies! What opportunities for play can we offer babies in the libraries?  Sure, I want a mirror and a balance beam, but there can be so much more! 

The most popular Ted Talk of 2021 was by a 7-year-old named Molly Wright. She begins her talk with the question, “What if I was to tell you that a game of peek-a-boo could change the world?”  She discusses the importance of connecting, playing, and talking with babies and children during their first five years to help support healthy brain development. Copycat games build imagination and empathy, naming games build vocabulary and attention, and games like peek-a-boo build memory and trust.  Wright places emphasis on interacting early and often, as well as making sure adults are responsive to the needs of the children around them – especially when devices like phones or tablets are present. 

An article from School Library Journal talked about the importance of encouraging “Conversational Duets” between caregivers and babies as young as 8-10 weeks old. Talking to a baby, waiting 5-12 seconds for them to respond (through body language, grunting, or babbling), and then having at least 5 conversational exchanges improve brain and language development. There are also tips on how to model this behavior and talk about it with patrons and caregivers in the library.

So, what does play for babies look like in a children’s library? How can we set up our spaces to educate, encourage, and foster these types of play in our spaces?  I’d love to hear your thoughts! 

Today’s blog post was written by Katie Patterson, Youth Services Librarian at the Aloha Community Library in Aloha, Oregon, on behalf of the ALSC Early and Family Literacy Committee. She can be reached at

This blog relates to ALSC Core Competencies of I. Commitment to Client Group.

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