Idea Roundup, Part 2

To continue with yesterday’s idea roundup, today I want to explore additional library programs focused on early literacy and see if I can begin to work out some patterns in what is already successfully being done, and to consider what we might do in our own libraries as well.

Literacy Totes & Kits
The Sandusky (OH) library received a grant to establish a collection of literacy totes intended to enable parents/caregivers to purposefully and effectively promote early literacy with their children.

Providence Public Library has something similar. Watch this video to see what it looks like!

Simple Downloadable Resources
The NYPL has a section for early literacy resources that is written in accessible language, and most of it is available in Spanish as well (though it is probably needed in lots of other languages too!). I love this simple set of infographics and suggested activities that give parents very simple and very accessible tips.


The rest of this page has resources for families throughout the community – cultural experiences, places to take your child and explore, even links to community health resources and other resources families may need at home. This could be viewed as a subtle way the library can demonstrate its investment in families as a whole and understanding of families’ needs in a broad sense, generating trust in the community.

Engaging Culture
Providence Public Library has a cool series called Family Learning Sundays. One Sunday a month, they do something culturally based and interesting. Cultural learning promotes a sense of self, interest in other people’s way of life, gives a vocabulary for varied experiences, and is just interesting and fun!



Idea Roundup, Part 1

Today I have been looking around at various children’s library websites to see what interesting ideas are out there – for spaces, programs, early literacy promotion, and more. I want to round up my ideas and observations here.

An Interactive Presentation on Children and Literacy


(image: screenshot from the Prezi linked below)

Here’s a cool Prezi presentation that walks through some of the brain research regarding early learning and development in children, specifically incorporating literacy ideas. This would be a great presentation to share on our website or on social media, because it’s a bright, interesting, interactive presentation and easy for parents to view at their own pace.

Prezi doesn’t play nice with wordpress, so here’s the link: Early Literacy & You

Queens Library Children’s Discovery Center

I’ve been looking at the Queens Library website – because this is a library with a huge, innovative space and I want to know more.



Look at this bright, light, beautiful space. Notice, too, these interactive stations shown in this picture. These stations include discovery about insects, magnets, mirrors, and other hands-on topics. And now let’s look at a screen shot of a cool feature of the library’s website…


What I love about this is how the library website links a hands-on activity to suggested books that children can look at in the library or check out to further explore an idea. It’s brilliant that the design team has set this up so well – a family can come into the library, explore an interactive station, and then find additional resources for exploration of the theme of that interactive station.

I’m impressed by the continuity between the website and the physical space, and how we could use our web resources to provide additional resources and opportunities for learning around the themes of our storytimes or programs.

Swing Into Stories

Here’s an absurdly simple, really fabulous, super easy idea for getting the word out and engaging the community.


To quote the SFPL website:

The Green Bookmobile is going to play at the park! Movement and play are an important part of growing into a reader. So we’re partnering with the San Francisco Recreation and Parks Department to bring reading and stories to where young children are movin’ and groovin’ outside. That’s the park, of course.

The Green Bookmobile has a variety of juvenile, teen and adult materials available for check out with an SFPL library card. The mobile library is able to circulate materials, create library cards, and provide the public with information about library services and programs.

Come to the playground and hit the swings with a good book or take some books home to cuddle up with later.

File this one under “Now why didn’t I think of that?” The park, the county rec center, the play area at the mall – all over the community are places people go with their kids. I’ve looked a lot at ways to bring play into the library, but I hadn’t thought of taking the library to places where children are at play. The opportunities for library-community partnership are many.

Demco Webinar: Updating a Kids’ Library Space

Demco is an online/catalog shop for library supplies and furniture. They’ve got everything. Today when I was looking at their website for some images to inspire me, I came across a webinar they produced looking at the overhaul of a library kids’ space. I was a little skeptical – a little afraid it would just be an hour-long commercial for Demco products – but actually there was some useful information here, which I am capturing for this blog post.

Watch the whole thing here.

Some highlights…

Play is unstructured – kids decide what to do with the materials they have in front of them. It builds brain pathways and creates a developmental foundation for future learning. It can help create cooperation, empathy, negotiation, learning through trial and error.

Why should we promote play in the library? It’s part of the library’s mission of promoting achievement and learning in children – empowering kids to learn in all realms. It provides an opportunity to create community connections.

Barrington Library update…

This update went on in 2013-2014 and renovated all the library’s public space with an $8.5 million budget – but let’s look for opportunities to do this on the smaller scale!

The library update draws from the idea of multiple intelligences, the idea that we can encourage learning and play in multiple domains:


And here are some of the goals of the project – a screenshot from the webinar itself.


The webinar team also provided some details about using the space to deal with traffic flow, noise, and other factors – they observed that this created some additional work and focus for staff as well, just in terms of organizing and cleaning and maintaining the space (and even designated a staff person as “Play Coordinator”!). They talked about some of the feedback they received on the project, both positive and negative.

And they talked about metrics for evaluating the amount of time children spent interacting with the items they chose for their space. Measuring success was a useful part of this webinar. Here’s a screenshot of some of their evaluation of the program:


Included items in the updated play space:

  • Pretend marketplace
  • Foam blocks for building
  • A big slide!
  • Costumes

Other programs that they created along with their space updates:

  • Process art (drop-in, all ages) – explore various mediums and sensory elements
  • Family fort building (child + caregiver) – positive shared experience

The take-aways

There were so many good ideas in this presentation! The fact is that most of us are not undergoing an $8 million dollar renovation to our spaces. Most of us are going to cobble together a few thousand dollars here and there to do updates and programs in our libraries. That’s fine – just imagine the possibilities where we are right now!

Picture how we could take a basic space and add some interactive elements to it, maybe some comfortable seating for Mom or Dad – promote it a little – use some easily acquired supplies to invite families to participate in some interactive programs – and grow it from there.

This was a super interesting and useful webinar for thinking about spaces and programs in my own libraries. I recommend it!


More Library STEAM Fun

Today I want to share with you a blog that has inspired me to no end! Check out STEM in Libraries and their amazing series of attainable, interesting, and varied STEM projects.

Why STE(A)M? 
Let’s start by considering why STEAM education matters – for schools, libraries, students, and families. I want to look at this as more than a flash-in-the-pan trend and explore what components of STEAM actually have an impact on student learning.

STE(A)M stands for science, technology, engineering, math – with the frequent inclusion of arts in the middle. I want to be clear here that I am not interested in trendy, but I am interested in fruitful. From that standpoint, the value of STEAM is the providing of hands-on, exploratory, student-focused activities; the inclusion of a variety of materials; the opportunity to hypothesize, try, revise, and try again; and the ability to predict, problem-solve, and learn from the process.

Perhaps I might say that at the core of my educational philosophy is that doing is as important as hearing and reading, and that being able to think through a process and predict an outcome is as important as remembering facts.

STEAM activities we could do in our libraries
Since one of the major components of our work this semester is planning an early literacy program for children, I have been very keen to consider how we can accessibly and affordably incorporate STEAM activities in our storytimes and programs. This means activities that don’t use a ton of expensive materials, can be done in one session, and are achievable by a storytime leader and a group of kids.

So check out these cool STEAM storytimes that I found on this blog:

Dinosaur Storytime includes a great dinosaur song with lots of dinosaur vocabulary; an activity using air-dry clay to make dinosaur prints; and pasta and glue to create a dinosaur skeleton. We could certainly reduce some components and reduce cost – there’s a lot going on here – but see how we can  use simple materials to conduct a really fun, interactive, educational storytime. There’s so much play going on here but there’s a lot of creative learning, too.

Structures Lab is less a storytime and more a hands-on exploration time, and would be a great addition to a STEM Playground event. We’ve done this with our preschoolers and they love it. Building the tallest tower is a blast, and seeing it fall down is a little thrill too. Consider all the opportunities for teamwork and problem-solving that you can incorporate into this activity.

Adapting ideas to our settings
You might look at these STEAM program plans and think, I can’t do all that at once! And there’s a good reason for that. In my experience, the younger the children, the fewer projects we can get through in one sitting. And setting up for several activities in one day may be more than one storytime librarian can  handle, too. That’s okay. I am looking at how we can adapt these ideas to fit in the context of a library storytime program, and here are some thoughts I have about how I’ll do that.

  • Incorporate books and stories. We can read Rosie Revere, Engineer over and over and never get tired of it. Pick titles that you can use to lead into projects and activities. Have fun with it. We worked a structure activity into a superhero storytime – we used cups to see if we could build a tower so tall a superhero couldn’t leap over it in a single bound. (We couldn’t – the superhero prevailed.)
  • Be flexible. You’ll notice that in some programs, you’ll get halfway into an activity and realize you are not going to get through your whole plan. It’s okay to go back to the circle, read another book, and call it a day. Be responsive to the needs of your group, especially with younger children.
  • But don’t dumb it down. You’d be surprised what young children can get out of a science activity, and how creative they can be in their problem-solving. So just because they don’t know the word “structure” yet doesn’t mean they won’t blow your mind with the cool structures they build.
  • Process over product. We don’t know from instance to instance how our projects will turn out. That’s okay. Think through the process step by step, and consider what can be learned by each portion of your activity. Maybe you do that tower building activity and your kids don’t learn anything about gravity, balance, and force – but they engage in some great teamwork and problem-solving. You’ve still taught a great lesson.


I hope you’ll explore more ideas from this blog, and think about how you can adapt STEAM projects and programs to your own context. I know it’s inspired me with a variety of ideas I could implement in my own setting!

Play in the Library: STEM

For today’s post, I wanted to explore some STEM concepts that could be used with young children in our library programs. I picture these ideas as being inspiration for things we could implement in special events such as STEM night, or as things that we could do as centers with selected early childhood programs. I am going to share with you two videos that demonstrate some play activities that we could implement at low cost.

This video shows children playing with a variety of materials in STEM centers in an early childhood/preschool setting. Notice that the children are using a variety of tools and toys which we may already own, such as blocks and building toys, as well as things we can acquire inexpensively such as nuts and bolts to string together (a great fine motor activity).

It is also interesting that the video points out ways in which these activities enhance social and emotional development, cooperation, problem-solving, and critical thinking.

This video is a great example of how children learn through play. The children in the video appear to be perhaps 4’s and pre-K age, maybe some who are 3, and they are quite capable of learning how to use simple tools such as levels and simple circuits.

Next I want to share with you an idea that we already do in our preschool classrooms that is SO much fun and SO interesting for kids to play with.

You can buy an expensive ramps and pathways kit online, but that isn’t necessary. The wood ramps are made from unfinished quarter-round trim, which you can get at the hardware store. They will even cut it for you (sand the cut edge to make it smooth – no splinters). Prop the ramps up on wood blocks, cardboard blocks, stacks of books, whatever you have available – or lay them on the floor. Now drop a marble in and see what happens. Then put a small brick (like a Lego) in and see what happens.

This is an instant, logical, hands-on lesson that incorporates learning about gravity, shapes, planning and problem-solving, velocity, and more. It’s so clever – I’m a big grownup and I love playing with our ramps. This is a great center activity or something we could incorporate into a STEM event as well, at a very low cost.

Early literacy activities in libraries: VIDEOS

Today I took a tour of YouTube to learn about what libraries are sharing with us regarding the various activities – projects, learning stations, centers, technology tools – that real-world libraries are using to promote early literacy activities for their patrons.

Children learn through play. Activities they can directly engage with – see, hear, touch, manipulate, play with, and talk about – provide enhanced opportunities for learning. Activities that are directly related to books provide additional opportunities to reinforce and scaffold children’s learning; these activities can build vocabulary, provide context, generate curiosity, and add sensory learning to the words they see on the page or hear read to them.

Here are some videos I found and want to share with you today…

In the first video, Marisa Conner of the Baltimore County Public Library describes the use of activity stations in the library. These self-service stations are designed to provide access to materials that correspond to books in the collection, and are rotated through by theme. Marisa explains how these activities tie into early literacy and language development skills.

In the second video, Family Place Libraries describes some of the ways that libraries can support the whole family. While not all of our libraries can or will become Family Place Libraries, this video shows some of the ways that we could expand our offerings to create more welcoming, interactive spaces in our libraries. Notice the various kinds of stations and activities depicted in this video. Could some of our children’s areas have a dramatic play area? A block center? A sensory balance beam? Puppets? These are activities that promote all the different kinds of play that enhance children’s learning and development – including literacy.


Here’s an interesting idea: STEM kits for little kids that can be checked out and taken home. In this video, the director of the Harford County Public Library describes the “I’d Like To Be An Entomologist” kit – one example of their mobile STEM kits – and how it can be used for early learning. Each kit includes books, hands-on activities, puzzles, audiovisual materials, and more. Just imagine how these kits could be used in our own programs – even if we didn’t establish them for checkout, imagine how well a themed kit might enhance a storytime theme with hands-on activities!

All of these videos have provided some interesting ideas for hands-on activities we could implement in our libraries to build upon the literacy activities we do in our programs.

These ideas could inspire us, for example, to build a kit like Celebree’s “I Want To Be An Entomologist” kit that goes along with our bugs storytime theme – whether it circulates or not, we can still have it to use for programs.

Or they could inspire us to set up a station in our library where children can explore a hands-on activity while they are visiting the library with their families.

Or they could inspire us to use some of our facility space for play activities, even if it is only on scheduled days and times, so that we can host enrichment activities for children in our communities.

All of these are ways we can add value to our programs and build connections and trust with families who come to us.

How Play Enhances Early Literacy Development

(Children playing in the grass –

Today I want to draw out some of the practical points in Ying Liu’s 2008 paper about play and early literacy development. This article has some helpful background and foundational information as well as detailed information in how play contributes to various aspects of development.

In a future post, I will discuss more about specific ideas for implementing literacy-related play activities in our programs and how we can specifically engage play for a productive purpose. But for now, let’s take a look at different kinds of play and why they’re important to children and to our library setting.

Why play? 

Liu describes Segal’s interpretation of the role of play in literacy development. Segal’s word picture is that of a tree. The roots of the tree are the child’s secure attachment to a parent or caregiver – a secure place from which to explore. The trunk of the tree is the child’s development of play during his or her growth and maturation – the different kinds and stages of play develop the child’s cognitive and developmental capabilities. The branches of the tree and its fruit are the benefits of play – the many ways that play promotes social development, learning, literacy, and school readiness.

From this standpoint, we have the opportunity to participate in each of these levels of development with children in our library programs and in our community. Consider that each of these parts of the tree correspond to something we can promote in our storytimes: the pleasant experience shared by parent and child enhances the bond; the types of play we can encourage enhances the opportunities to experience play; and the particular lessons learned by our children in playtime enhance the specific points of development we can help promote in our participants.

Let’s look at specific kinds of play and how each of them relates to literacy and the library program.

Dramatic play (AKA pretend play, imaginative play)

  • What is it? Dramatic play is a kind of play where children act out roles or scenarios. If you’ve ever watched children play in a toy kitchen, you might see them prepare, serve, and maybe even clean up a whole lunch for each other with the toy food. That’s dramatic play, and it can involve any scenario the children can invent, and also can include the use of costumes, food items, puppets, animals, and other props.
  • How does it reinforce literacy and learning? Dramatic play involves a number of skills that we might not realize are important until we put them in context. Liu points out that dramatic play is both the most common type of interactive play among children, and it is complex. Language makes up the symbolism inside dramatic play – children use words to describe objects, build vocabulary skills around those objects, and describe what’s happening in their play. “Metalinguistic awareness” is how children become aware of the way that language is used, and dramatic play develops this. “Functional language” is another concept that is developed in dramatic play, and it refers to the language that we use maneuvering our everyday lives.
  • How can we incorporate dramatic play in our libraries? Probably much the same way we incorporate it into early childhood classroom settings – by using props to spark the creativity in children and let them run with it. So for example, in storytime, if we read The Three Little Pigs, and we set up a play station for center time with some blocks and some animals, we might see children in that station instinctively retelling the story (or making up their own version) with the materials we set out for them. We can use simple and readily available toys and materials to open up avenues for dramatic play. Some libraries set up play centers in their children’s areas, providing a natural opportunity for children to enter into play and literacy activities simultaneously.
  • Tell me more about this. See this article from Scholastic: What is dramatic play? 

Social play (AKA cooperative play)

  • What is it? Social play is simply interactive play among children. Social play can negotiate and reinforce social rules, encourage cooperation and collaboration, and encourage children to negotiate questions and solve problems together. Younger children tend to play in parallel and begin more interactive social play at three or four years of age, but even parallel play is observant and negotiated among children.
  • How does it reinforce literacy and learning? Social play is largely language-based. Language describes the rules and purposes of the game, negotiates questions, problem-solves, allows children to express themselves and their feelings, and creates opportunities for symbolic representation of objects and ideas.
  • How can we incorporate social play in our libraries? Social play is a largely instinctive form of play among children. Offering open space and basic objects to children to enable their play is sometimes all we need to do to encourage open-ended, child-directed play. If children are behaving shyly or not engaging, we can have a ready game to start ourselves – including games that use minimal materials, such as “hot potato” or “duck duck goose”. Social play also overlaps with other forms of play in that other types of play can be inherently social when other children are involved.
  • Tell me more about this. See this article: Characteristics of social play.

Symbolic play

  • What is it? Symbolic play is a kind of play where children employ symbols – where one object or idea stands in for another. Playing house or school are examples of symbolic play.
  • How does it reinforce literacy and learning? Pretend and make-believe allow children to explore roles and ideas, to try out ideas and make and remake things, to use their imaginations and stretch their creativity, and to solidify in their thinking how one thing can represent another.
  • How can we incorporate symbolic play into our libraries? Use play-dough to make a birthday cake for  birthday themed storytime; turn our chairs into a train to ride to different settings for our stories; set up open-ended play centers so children can make up their own symbolic games. This creates numerous opportunities to reinforce our storytime themes and selections with play activities.
  • Tell me more about this. See this article from California DOE: Symbolic play.

Art and music

We mustn’t forget art and music as sources of literacy learning – music and art are not only forms of intelligence in themselves, but further reinforce language concepts. Art can be used in our programs to reinforce concepts in our storytimes, and music engages multiple areas of the brain and can encourage memory.

  • Using art in library storytime. Many, many websites have been established to give us ideas about simple craft projects we can do that are related to books. And we mustn’t discount the usefulness of simple art and craft supplies to trigger creative and symbolic thinking, spontaneous writing, learning of colors and other concepts. Art doesn’t have to have an end product – it can just be something that is done spontaneously and experimentally; see this blog post: Process and product art.
  • Using music in library storytime. Music in storytime reinforces rhythm and rhyme, is engaging and fun, can contribute to language development, and encourages interaction between parent and child during storytime. See this blog post: Why your library needs music.

Want an even more detailed explanation of play and early learning? Here’s a great academic paper to read with lots of case descriptions of specific play endeavors and how they promote literacy development: Developing literacy through play.




Liu, Y. (2008). Understanding play and literacy development in the young child. Jackson State University Researcher, 21(4), 14-50.