Thursday, March 27, 2014

The importance of free play in the library

My deadline for summer reading club programs is next week.  For months I have been working the calendar to find a mix of paid presenters, movie showings, games, crafts, and wild-card activities for all age groups.  This is exhausting and I haven't reached June and July yet!

I had a major AH-HA moment yesterday, however.  I had a drop-in Lego program, where kids could just come in, have a snack, and play with Legos.  No structure. No rules (except no throwing or putting things up your nose). No guidelines.  No theme.

The Lego bin awaits!
So far, in my humble two months at this branch, this after-school program has been the biggest success story for this age group.  In the hour's time, I had more kids come in than many of my other programs combined.


Several parents stayed.  Kids asked when this was happening again.  Moms said they hoped I would do this all summer.  But wait!  I didn't do any prep work for this program!  I did no research or thinking about a theme!  This was on the calendar for only a couple of weeks and was kind-of a whim.

Sometimes the kids like structure.  I have had programs where I ask the kids what they would like to do and they stare back until I say "how about this?" and the program starts.  But not this time.  These kids came to play.  They came to meet up with their friends and just be together after school.  It was about being part of the community they lived and just being kids.  They formed their own groups, made their own stories (and freely shared them, YAY!), and had the best time. 

Lego programs are on my calendar this summer.....three of them.  I won't plan anything else but to have the Legos there and some Icee-Pops.  Maybe we will just have to do this every month after that.  Who knows?  This isn't about Legos, it is about allowing kids to just be kids, to be a part of the library doing something they love, and, after a long day at school, to not be directed in their activities.  It could be drawing or play dough, or sidewalk chalk, or dance - anything that allows kids a little free, unstructured play in their day.  I think it is time for me to think more about free play in the library.  I wonder what else we can do?

As a post script, I saw this excellent post on ALSC twitter feed.  It goes into great detail the concept of Play in the Public Library!  Check it out!


  1. Yes! We started this kind of unstructered Lego program a few years ago. Have added DIY crafts and window painting as well in summer. Thinking about chalk drawing as well. We are sooo busy during the summer that looking for ways to provide a playful arty/engineering STEAM component while not killing staff has really resonated with us!

    1. We also have a very light summer crowd, so planning things and having far more materials than participants is discouraging. These types of events are perfect because you can manage almost no matter what the size of the crowd!