“Pete is sitting at his desk when his teacher says,
‘Come on, Pete
down that hall
to a room with books
on every wall.’
Where is Pete going?
The Library!” (1)
Does it matter whether Pete the Cat will select a book from a physical wall or virtual wall at the library? Goodness no! The messages, art, ideas, and meaning in a book or media experience are what matter more than the format. Thinking beyond what is on the page or screen can strengthen a young child’s—indeed anyone’s—imagination.
Books – in print or e-book versions – can open doorways to discovery. Perfect Piggies! (2010) by Sandra Boynton, for example, delights babies and toddlers with quirky fun and upbeat illustrations and helps grown-ups interact and bond with children. “Isn’t that pig silly? What do you think will happen next?” Adults learn to relax and enjoy the “conversation”— “bah doo bah doink.” Parents can invite story connections to personal life. “A piggy needs kindness. Wasn’t Grandma kind to bring us flowers yesterday?” A well-chosen book and a suggested home activity can help parents create a heart-to-heart intimacy with their child. Library play-and-learn centers magnetically draw children into the kind of play that engages and inspires them. Grown-ups and children—by talking, singing, reading, writing, and playing—can enter into this world of discovery.
The Maryland State Department of Education (MSDE) in helping young children get ready for school, asked: What better place for families to find exciting—free— resources for early learning, and play activities than at the public library? Indeed, where else could they ask the question? Bah doo bah doink!
Although the core purpose of a library remains the same–to enlighten humanity–technology and easy access to information have shifted the ways in which libraries can fulfill their purpose. Libraries are more than books!
Librarians challenge themselves and each of us to “welcome all,” embracing the human impulse to grow, and celebrating life. Parents and families who may be strangers to the library or to each other can find assistance, encouragement, and inspiration in a library. Librarians help children discover they can respect each other and get along. Many of us discover the right book at the right time to solve a problem or gain understanding. However, the benefits of a library may not impact us overnight, but rather soak in gradually as we enjoy lifelong learning and broaden our horizons.
The importance of childhood play–as a key component to learning–can be traced back to Plato, who talked about “good play.” What is good play? Plato recognized good play as that which leads to the good. He contrasted it to “bad play,” which deflects the learner from this goal. We may think in terms of physical play when we talk about children’s play. However, play involves more than a physical interaction of engaging with others or things. Mental play stimulates the imagination and helps to teach children to pursue the good in themselves and the good in life. Picture books are well-suited to help children grapple with important life experiences and unexpected challenges. After all, what does a child learn when he or she bullies another child? Bullying behavior reinforces a selfish outlook on life. Good play should take a child beyond personal needs. The good play that Plato refers to teaches children to interact for the good of all.
Children who learn how to play in an ideal spirit and develop a habit of playing together in pursuit of the “good” are more likely to grow up with playful and inquisitive minds. Play is “a jumping-off place” that can set in motion the possibility of learning.
Maryland public libraries–through their spaces, resources, collections, and programs–help develop playful, inquisitive minds and guide children and their caregivers in good play.
Spaces such as Storyville (Woodlawn and Rosedale branches, Baltimore County Public Library) (2) or Schooner Cove (Havre de Grace, Harford County Public Library) (3) provide intentionally created spaces for engaging play and are designed to promote early literacy and school readiness skills. Storyville is a child-sized village that features developmentally appropriate books, toys, and activities for children birth to age 5 and their parents and families.
In addition to these spaces to encourage interactive play, children’s departments in public libraries throughout Maryland provide similar play and learn centers where children can explore and inquire. They can engage with books, learning toys, and spaces such as trains, pirate ships, and grocery stores, all of which foster imagination and creativity. Teen Zones contain collaborative, welcoming spaces for teens seeking a safe space for their academic, creative, social, and emotional needs.
Maryland public libraries provide a variety of resources and collections for children, parents, and families. “Literacy Kits,” “Adventure Totes,” and “Make and Learn Bags” with resources such as books, learning toys, and music CDs are available for families and early care and education providers to borrow for home or early child care settings. These resources are designed to explore a variety of topics and skills. Parenting collections, bilingual books, games, puzzles, audiobooks, STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) materials, gaming and video equipment, DIY (do-it-yourself) offerings, and of course, books, enable children, their caregivers, and teens to gain new knowledge that suits their learning style and meet their ever-changing needs and interests.
Pajama Parties; Coding with Cubetto; Lego Clubs; sensory story times for families with children with special needs; Science Clubs; family story time; Homework Help; 3D printing; book clubs; Pokémon Club; Baby Rembrandt; Paws to Read (reading with dogs); Virtual Reality; Teen Gaming groups; Minecraft; Escape Rooms – there is no end to the variety of programs offered by Maryland public libraries to meet the interests of children and teens of all ages.
Library programs also exist beyond the walls of our library branches in locations such as the Judy Centers, Head Start, WIC locations, correctional facilities, health care clinics, farmers’ markets, schools, Boys and Girls Clubs, and early child care programs. Maryland public libraries strive to provide the spaces, resources, collections, programs, and expertise that serve as foundations for learning and growing as well as leaping-off points for imagination, creativity, and critical thinking. Whether it is Pete the Cat, a Sandra Boynton Piggie, a pirate ship to steer, a Minecraft mob to conquer, a dog to read to, or a robot to lead through a maze, Maryland public libraries help our children and youth avoid Plato’s bad play by achieving their goals of growing, learning, and exploring. Through these learning resources and opportunities, Maryland public libraries can hope that Plato would be pleased at all the good play happening in our libraries today.
(1) Dean, James, Illustrator, and Litwin, Eric, Author. Pete the Cat: Rocking in My School Shoes. New York: NY, HarperCollins, 2011.