A Year of Pretend Play at the Library: Part One

Playing is learning. This probably isn’t news to the people who read this blog, but it bears repeating because it’s easy to forget. Kids play all the time at home, and it can become something that happens in the background that we don’t think about. At the library, we place a priority on play. We make it a point to invite kids and grownups to play together. If asked, I could go on and on about the ways that pretend play, in particular, helps kids develop early literacy skills, but my goal with this post is to show off some of the fun pretend play themes I’ve had at my library over the last year. So here goes! :)


Narrative Skills:

img_4257.jpgWe celebrated Picture Book Month with an Enchanted Forest theme. Kids could dress up as fairy tale characters or use the stuffed animals to tell their own version of familiar stories. The story cubes could spark a creative retelling that mixes up all sorts of fairy tale elements. I made these myself by covering some wooden blocks with construction paper and tape, but you can also buy story cubes or story sticks aimed at preschoolers to encourage storytelling.


Social Skills:

img_4985.jpgIn the grocery store, the ice cream shop, and other community based play spaces, kids can imagine themselves in various roles. They can take turns being proprietor or a customer, seeing the interactions from different roles and developing empathy for experiences outside of their own.



img_4905.jpgIn the Fix It Shop, we named the tools. In the Sense Lab, we encouraged the use of descriptive language as kids explored the world with their senses. Our Space Station offered various science words. Don’t underestimate kids’ willingness to learn complex vocabulary if they are interested in the topic!


Print Awareness:

img_5551.jpgIn the community based play spaces (World Café, Ice Cream Shop, etc), the menus and other signage are examples of the way that we interact with printed words as we life our lives. Understanding just how much we rely on printed language is an important part of learning to read.


Print Motivation:

img_5727.jpgKids and caregivers are always encouraged to learn more about the topics with books. Learning to read is hard work, and if kids are interested in the topics they are reading about, they be much more motivated.


Letter Knowledge:

img_4413.jpgExploring shapes and sorting objects based on likes and differences is a first step to letter knowledge. Our grocery store featured pictures of letters made out of food, and the Sense Lab encouraged sorting objects based on how they feel.


Phonological Awareness:

img_5842.jpgSinging songs and chanting rhymes help kids hear the sounds of words more clearly than in regular speech. We included the words to a rhyme in our Ice Cream Shop and our Space Station to add an opportunity to build phonological awareness while at play.

Stay tuned for an upcoming post about my library’s pretend play space relates to early science skills!

Happy Picture Book Month

Picture Book Month is almost over.  If you haven’t been following the “Why Picture Books are Important” series on the official web site, you have been missing some gems from picture book authors and illustrators as they write about what picture books mean to them or their readers.  Some of the authors have brought up visual literacy, inspiring imagination, and many other really great points.

I’ve been reading picture books as a librarian for nearly ten years now, but I’ve been reading them as a mom for just a few.  It’s mostly the same experience, with just a few differences.  The librarian in me is thinking about reading levels and audience, but the mom in me doesn’t spend much time with that.  My kiddo is her own girl.  Sometimes she likes books that don’t seem to be meant for her whether it be so-called “boy books” or sentimental picture books written with grown ups in mind.  You never can tell just what she will like.

For us, I guess, picture books are possibilities, adventure just waiting to happen.  They are the spark for learning, talking, and exploring.

Follow reading our adventures in my Picture Book Preschool posts, and stay tuned for books and activities related to colors, counting, and simple math!

Stories come alive at the MN Children’s Museum

When we walked into the Storyland exhibit at the MN Children’s Museum last Friday evening, my kiddo’s eyes went wide with delight.  The room–which, in all honesty, was smaller than I was expecting–was full of familiar scenes from the pages of children’s books, several of which we have read over and over again.  There, though, it was real.  And it was big.

The first scene to catch her attention was from Chicka Chicka Boom Boom.  Not only is this one of our favorite books to read at home, but also, the huge letters and giant coconut tree are probably the most eye-catching part of the room.

That wasn’t the favorite, though.  She spent the most time in Peter Rabbit’s burrow, which surprised me since I don’t think she has read the story.  Ladybug could have spent the entire time just in that one place.

I can’t imagine she was thinking about sound awareness as she played with letters or about narrative as she put Peter Rabbit to sleep in his bed or made him a tasty pretend dinner.    To her, it was play.  To me, it was early literacy in action.

I am currently reading Mind in the Making: Seven Essential Life Skills Every Child Needs by Ellen Galinsky.  One of those skills is communicating, which includes a lot of information about early literacy, but what has really interested me as I read the book (and I am only about half-way through) is how often storytelling and pretend play have come up as suggestions for cultivating other valuable skills.

The pretend play that Ladybug did in the Peter Rabbit part of the exhibit, for example, is a way to promote cognitive flexibility.  She had her thing going on as she pretended to be Peter’s mom, but other kids and parents were also at the exhibit.  They interrupted her narrative or changed it, and it was up to her to deal with these changes.  This skill isn’t necessarily one we think about often as we watch our kids play together, but when our children are adults a high level of cognitive flexibility will help them to adapt to change and understand other people’s perspectives.

Storyland is a great opportunity for both parents and children to see how books are more than just words on paper and literacy is more than just knowing how to read.  It is an opportunity for what Mind in the Making calls “extended discourse,” or taking the conversation beyond the obvious to ask questions about stories or connect stories to our own experiences.

We will definitely be going back to Storyland, since we are members of the MN Children’s Museum, and I think that reading the featured books that we hadn’t yet read will enhance the exhibit even more.

Disclosure: I was not in any way compensated for this post. We received a family membership to the Minnesota Children’s Museum as a gift from my mom.  Books referenced in this post are either personal or library copies.  Amazon links are affiliate links, which means I earn a percentage of any purchases made from the links.