Report written by Katie Sundstrom, Two Harbors Public Library Director
Project: Developing an Early Learning Space in the Children’s Area
We have been watching the ongoing trend of libraries incorporating dynamic early learning spaces into their children’s areas, as well as reading the numerous benefits children receive from having access to educational manipulatives and free play areas. Sadly, our children’s area looks very similar to how it has looked for many years, being centered all around books and classic seating. While we have previously received a ShopKo grant to add a train table and play cube, it is still far from what we ultimately envision. Therefore, in our quest to create a bright, playful, easily modifiable, and educational early learning play area, we are working on a multi-year plan, allowing for small changes at a time in order to re-vamp the area in a more affordable manner. This year, we were quite happy to receive an ALS mini-grant that allowed us to purchase a Childcraft Play Store and Puppet Theater with 2-sided chalkboard panels. This unit is free-standing and highly adaptable, meaning we will be able to move it around and change-out the props to keep it interesting and relevant, as well as the chalk boards allow for writing and drawing practice for children. We already have hand-puppets from story times, which allow for it to be used as a puppet theater, and our local Friends of the Library purchased a toy cash register, shopping baskets, an A to Z Alphabet Grocery Set, and a Farmer’s Market Color Sorting Set, allowing for its use as a grocery store or a farmer’s market stall, respectively. We will also be able to request our local Friends group to provide future funds to add new manipulatives as our needs/goals evolve.
Our goals for this addition are to encourage cooperative and creative play among children in the library, to encourage parents to network as their children interact, and to encourage early literacy development. Early literacy development can be encouraged through practice with writing on the chalkboard, exposure to the alphabet with the A to Z groceries kit, using the puppet theater with storytimes as children follow stories as they are acted out and sing songs, narrative skills as children are encouraged to tell their own stories with the puppets, and more. The addition of the color-sorting farmer’s market set allows for the learning of color identification, and the inclusion of the toy cash register with play money allows for the learning of currency transactions and math concepts. In the first few days of having the play store set-up, excitement was already starting to build throughout the community; we had parents and grandparents who only stopped by briefly to pick-up their holds mention that they now planned to bring their young children/grandchildren on their next visit. We also had people ask what other programs/services we offer for children as they are starting to see us as a potential fun location. In the first couple of weeks since set-up, we have had children from toddlers to late elementary age actively playing with the set. We have had parents and grandparents mention that the toys were a hit with their children, and that they themselves enjoyed playing store with their children. Some families also mentioned that they are staying in the library longer, as their children are having so much fun and don’t want to leave. One of the teachers from a local early childhood education program asked where we obtained the materials because she would like to look into the possibility of adding some of them to her classroom of 3-4 year-olds as well; that was a fun surprise. Thus far, the feedback has been mostly positive and we are pleased with the results. Hopefully the rest of our plans for improving the children’s area will progress just as smoothly in the future.