Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Early Literacy Play Kits: Adding more play to your library system

Play is an integral component of developing reading readiness. Folks have been touting that belief for a while, and the inclusion of "play" as one of five early literacy practices in the revised Every Child Ready to Read solidified it as fact. Play is fun, sure, but it's also a developmentally appropriate way for children to map concepts onto words. It's one thing to know the word for "train"; play allows children to learn what a train is and what it does. Play is very important.

All 12 kits, ready to go to branches.
If you're like pretty much every library I've ever been to, though--including my own--you don't necessarily have a lot of room to inject many more opportunities for play into your library. And then you have to consider the cost of toys and space for storage, too. These considerations are obstacles, but they are absolutely surmountable. How?

Early Literacy Play Kits.

In my library district, we created twelve distinct Early Literacy Play Kits--enough for one to be at each of our twelve branches every month of the year. These kits are basically boxes of toys: there's a puppet kit with three boxes of puppets, a puzzle kit, a play food kit, a baby activities kit... Our team of children's librarians had some lively discussions about what types of toys we would like to incorporate in our branches if we had funds and space, and we created our list of twelve theme kits from there. We were able to collaborate and select items that we knew would be used by children in our libraries.

We selected kits that cover the whole pre-reader spectrum. We've got baby-safe stations like bead mazes; juggling scarves and wrist ribbons perfect for dancing two- and three-year-olds; blocks for children of every age; and a mailbox to encourage writing among the set who are really into working on their letters. We intentionally tried to incorporate dramatic play, basic math, letter recognition, and diverse vocabulary across the spectrum of all our kits.

The free play station in Picture Book City at my branch.
The beauty of these Early Literacy Play Kits is twofold. 1) A branch only has to find space to store one kit per month, yet it benefits from having twelve different sets of toys in the branch every calendar year. 2) A branch can use its monthly kit however it chooses: in programs, set out in the children's area, by internet computers to keep young ones productively entertained while the caregiver is online... Possibilities are limited only by staff imagination. In October, for example, my branch had one of our food kits, which includes placemats, plastic dishes, and some play food. Throughout the month my staff and I used the play food at the end of some of our programs for free play. We also had a few place settings and a play pizza out in the children's area all month. Boy was that table popular, with kids of all ages serving up slices for their siblings and caregivers.

Is your interest piqued, but you're afraid the process of purchasing, creating, sharing, and maintaining the kits is too burdensome? Let me assure you that the logistics of the kits aren't that difficult.
    I love toy deliveries.
  • Purchasing: After securing a $3000 grant from our Library Foundation, our selected toys were purchased and delivered to my branch.
  • Creation: Volunteers helped label every toy piece with the library's initials, and I separated our toys into plastic containers with locking lids. The final containers contain box inventories, age and cleaning recommendations, and a schedule of the kit rotation--everyone always knows what kit they'll have which month.
  • Sharing: Each branch has a kit for a month, at which point the kit travels to its next branch via our delivery crew (they already run materials and supplies deliveries every day, so the addition of a kit or two doesn't add undue strain on the system).
  • Maintenance: Staff are responsible for using the kits as they see fit, then cleaning and inventorying the boxes at the end of each month before sending it on its way. Once a year, all kits will return to me to update inventories and order replacement items if necessary.

It's really pretty simple: a variety of toys that promote early literacy while requiring minimal work and space constraints. Give Early Literacy Play Kits a try in your library system. I would bet you'll hear positive things from staff--who have new, fun items to use in programs--as well as kids and caregivers who enjoy the toys in your children's spaces.

Incorporate more play in your library!


  1. Do you have a list of the literacy play kits you created?

    1. Julia, I do not have a list of the play kits as I no longer work for the library system at which we created them. I can give you some generals, however. There were a few kits that focused on play food and dishes; a kit with foam blocks; kits with magnetic boards and letter, number, and animal magnets; a dancing scarves kit; a kit with dress-up materials; several kits of puzzles; two kits with baby activity centers and baby-appropriate toys; and a mail kit that included a large plastic mailbox.

    2. Thanks! That helps. I'm actually working on similar project at my library and happened to see your post again while searching for something else.


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