By Kara Pauley
Families with young children who visit the library may have noticed that there are many ways to play—from the play areas to imaginative activities in Storytime. Why are the librarians at the St. Joe County Public Library so focused on play? It is one of the most powerful ways that children learn to read.
But play does so much more than that. According to a School Readiness Presentation Paper by the Bay Area Discovery Museum, play helps children prepare for school and beyond by helping them build high-concept and critical thinking skills (math and science) as well as social-emotional skills. Coming out of the pandemic (or at least the phase of self-isolation), children are in more need of play experiences than ever before.
Though children may have their own toys at home, engagement with others is critical for rich play experiences that expand vocabulary, challenge their thinking, and develop social skills. Children especially need to play with other children, not just their parents or even their siblings. Learning to play with a new friend puts a child in a situation to gain empathy for someone they don’t know. It can also give a child the experience of working through tough emotions when things don’t go their way or practicing self-control when they need to share a toy.
Two key types of play are dramatic play and constructive play. In dramatic play, children are taking on different roles they see in everyday life and modeling their actions after adults. According to Will Erstad from Rasmussen University, dramatic play supports self-regulation, conflict-resolution, and literacy development. Through this kind of play, children are doing more than playing pretend, they are learning to identify objects and get along with others.
Constructive play revolves around building with objects, such as blocks, and goes through several stages. Although constructive play nurtures STEM skills, it also has a profound effect on language. In a paper written for the Association for the Library Services to Children, Sue McCleaf Nespeca says, “Children are deciding what to build and selecting different sizes and shapes of blocks, but also are communicating with their peers and with adults.”
Over the past year, the library has taken steps to create diverse play experiences for families. One of the most notable is the special play area at Main Library called Tiny Town–a play village that includes a cafe, a car shop, a market, and an animal rescue. These shops are filled with toys and props children will need to interact and role play. Many families return several days a week or stay for several hours, and children have plenty of opportunities to make new friends and learn to coexist in the play space.
The library also has self-contained Playtime programs. Playtime is an opportunity for parents and children to engage in reciprocal play (playing collaboratively) which is one of the most effective ways that children make connections and build critical thinking skills. Since Tiny Town focuses heavily on dramatic play (role playing, modeling, and pretending), often STEM toys are brought out for Playtime. However, we also have dedicated toys for dramatic play during Playtime, such as baby dolls. It is amazing how something as simple as a doll sparks the imagination.
In Storytimes and other programming, we are always thinking about play and the ways that we can incorporate it. We like to lean on guided play, which means that we will facilitate, but we want children to make their own choices about how they will accomplish a craft, challenge, or activity. Come and see what we have in store for you and your child to engage together in meaningful plays that are sure to become treasured memories.
Kara Pauley is the Early Literacy Librarian at the St. Joe County Public Library. Her areas of expertise include storytime instruction, exploratory play, and inclusive programming and services for children with disabilities. Check out some of her favorite books to read for Storytime.
Erstad, Will. “6 Reasons Why Dramatic Play Matters.” Rasmussen University. May 2022. https://www.rasmussen.edu/degrees/education/blog/why-dramatic-play-matters/
Nespeca, Sue McCleaf. “The Importance of Play, Particularly Constructive Play, in Public Library Programming.” Association for Library Services to Children. September 2012. https://www.ala.org/alsc/sites/ala.org.alsc/files/content/Play_formatted.pdf
Rood, Elizabeth Ed.D. and Helen Hadani, Ph.D. Reimagining School Readiness. Bay Area Discovery Museum. https://bayareadiscoverymuseum.org/resources/educator-resources/library-toolkit