Guest Blogger

Library Play Area on a Budget

When the COVID numbers lessened in our area and I was able to put things out in the children’s area for them to play with, I realized that we didn’t have much. We have a few wooden puzzles which are fun, but the kids told me they get bored of doing the same ones over and over. Play is one of the five Early Literacy Practices and the ALSC blog post Play With Babies in Library Spaces by the Early and Family Literacy Committee discusses why play is so important. Knowing just how important it is for kids to play, I spent some time coming up with ideas on things I could do on a budget to make my children’s area more inviting and interactive.

First, I started creating tabletop activities and I switch these out every few weeks. I have used bananagram word tiles and I laminated words for them to make with the tiles. I created my own tangrams by making shapes in Microsoft Publisher and laminating them for the kids to use as puzzles. I also made a color sorting activity with paper, pipe cleaners, popsicle sticks, and tissue paper that we had lying around the office. Currently, I am working on a Mr. and Mrs. Potato Head that I am making out of felt for the kids to play with at the table.

Using scrap paper to make a coloring station is also something that has worked well for me. I had a lot of scraps of different colored papers from a project I did for our summer program, and I cut them into bookmark shaped pieces and left them out on a table with some crayons. The kids go nuts. They get so excited to make a bookmark and then take it home with them. I also added some coloring book pages from a coloring book I bought at Walmart for less than a dollar because I saw it and couldn’t resist.

Table setup with coloring sheets, bookmarks, and crayons in the children’s play area.

These are all ideas I came up with while searching for fun supplies in our youth services office or scouring Pinterest, and I am always looking for more ideas. What kind of toys and/or activities do you have in your library? How did you come up with your ideas?

Photos courtesy of guest blogger.

Today’s guest blogger Kirsten Caldwell has master’s degrees in both chemistry and information science with a certificate in youth services. She is a new youth services assistant at a public library and works with ages 0-18, though early literacy is where she wants to specialize. She is passionate about programming and best storytime practices and joined ALSC to meet and learn from other librarians around the country.

Please note that as a guest post, the views expressed here do not represent the official position of ALA or ALSC.


  1. Robbin Friedman

    Tabletop activities are such a great way to change up the early childhood space and give patrons new and valuable experiences. In my library, we’ve enjoyed putting out different kinds of balancing blocks. Our favorites were the Balancing Kiwis that came back from a family vacation but we also love a set of irregular wooden blocks that I first encountered at the Madison Public Library in Wisconsin.

  2. Ann

    Prior to receiving a donation from our “friends” group for library play area materials I would leave out coloring pages, craft supplies or easy craft activities. Many were leftovers from story times or art activities. I also would put out a few puzzles that I received as donations. I would change these out every month. I’ve always accepted donations of new or gently used puzzles, non-battery operated, creative play, toys and coloring books that I would carefully inspect and clean and then put in our play area.
    If you order from a book company that offers points for purchases (Penworthy), you can save up your points and utilize them for more items to put in your play space. I recently saved enough points to get a wooden barn and animals. It is now in our play area.

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