The Importance of Play at Library Programs
Before libraries had to close due to the pandemic, play was often emphasized in our storytimes and programming. We would add a Stay and Play time at the end of most storytimes, where children would play cooperatively with library toys while parents helped them and chatted together. For older children, we often had game events, both physical games, board games, and electronic gaming. How can we continue to support play as an essential element of a child’s life?
Many have heard the saying “Play is the work of children,” attributed to Maria Montessori. In the early 1900’s, Hull House and other social welfare movements advocated for play as a part of daily life for all ages, from young children to adults. Data shows the importance of play to a child’s development and well being, and points out that children in poverty tend to play less than middle class children, and often don’t have a safe place to play (like a back yard). Play is one of the Five Parent Practices recommended to all new parents by doctors, educators, and others.
So, how can we continue to motivate play while we are not offering in-person library programming? Many libraries are offering virtual storytimes on Youtube, Facebook, or by using Zoom. Some include parenting tips such as recommending play that relates to the stories being read. Most virtual storytimes include songs, fingerplays, use of puppets, musical instruments, and other elements of play. Reminding families to continue the storytime at home by playing and singing is a great way to conclude a virtual storytime.
Many other libraries are offering craft packets, coloring sheets, and other play elements to those picking up books from the library using curbside pickup. These packets are a great way to promote play as well as other developmental skills learned by doing arts and crafts. Often parents will help the child, and arts and crafts are a great way to motivate parents to play with their children. If libraries do not have the funds to make craft packets to give away, consider obtaining mini-grants or donations from local businesses or the Friends of the Library to purchase the needed supplies. Many crafts are very low cost; you can offer packets that remind families to look for items in the recycling bin at home to find materials to use.
Free play is very important to children, so offering general art supplies can be just as useful as craft kits. You can also make up handouts with lyrics to songs that are games, such as “The Hokey Pokey” and other classics. Handouts can offer recipes for play, such as instructions for making large boxes into cars or buses to play driver, or train cars to play conductor.
Handouts to parents of older children can remind them of the positive interaction of board games, especially at this time when parents and children are at home during the pandemic. Many board and card games appeal to those ages 8 to adult, including “Sorry,” “UNO,” “Connect Four,” and countless others from our childhoods. Of course, these games often teach strategy and other skills but the emphasis is on having fun and talking together as a family. Many families will already own some of these games; some thrift stores are also a good resource for these at a very low cost.
There are many books in your library with rules on card games, chess, and other games, as well as books describing games from around the world and arts and crafts books. Be sure to promote these for curbside pickup as a way to motivate families to make playtime a daily priority.