Fun Fun Fun at the Carver County Library

Starting this month, children will be able to enjoy various learning stations, each with their own “Discovery Kit,” at Carver County Libraries. (Submitted photo)
Starting this month, children will be able to enjoy various learning stations, each with their own “Discovery Kit,” at Carver County Libraries. (Submitted photo)

“Let’s play” are words commonly not associated with public libraries, but that is what you may be hearing frequently in the future. Starting in August, all five Carver County libraries will introduce a new Early Literacy Sensory station, essentially a play and learn center for early literacy activities.

The learning centers will feature a rotation of 10 different “Discovery Kits” that contain themed activities from nature to travel to gardening. As one young patron stated, “I love to come to the library, and read books and play.” Another youngster stated, “The library is fun and learningful [sic].”

“While we try to make story time and other library activities fun, we understand the importance of emphasizing the reading, talking, singing and play skills,” noted Chaska Library Youth Service librarian Jennifer Hemken.

Early on, Carver County Libraries embraced the Every Child Ready to Read2 initiative that emphasizes those skills and practices that help young children develop language.

“I really appreciate the connection between the literature, song and activities that are prepared each week for storytime,” said Katie Van Voorea of Waconia, a former public school teacher.

It was clear during the 2013 Carver County Library Strategic Planning process that that the public identified the Carver County Library as a destination place for families. “What’s not to like?” declared one Strategic Planning participant from the public. “It is a great gathering space that is free and offers recreational and educational opportunities with access to books and early literacy activities.”

Transforming that space and the experiences to be more welcoming became a major direction identified in the 2013-18 Strategic Plan. However, there was no money in the budget to fund such a project.

Seeking outside resources, the Library applied for and got a State LSTA (Library Services Technology Act) Play and Learn Space mini-grant. Maren Wilbur, the Youth Services librarian for the Chanhassen Library, took the reins, coordinating information gathering and writing the grant.

As she did so, she found the needs of the county from the demographics showed a county in which this kind of service was needed and supported the Strategic Planning survey that noted the library was the place that should offer this service.

“In our survey, many parents expressed that the library is a great place that is free; children can come here to read and explore,” Wilbur said.

Through the grant, each Carver County library has received furniture that will serve as a flexible learning center for early literacy activities. The learning centers will feature a rotation of “Discovery Kits” that contain themed early literacy play materials. There will be a total of 10 kits, allowing for two kits to be at a location, one for display and one for back-up. The Carver County Youth Service Librarians cooperatively worked on developing each of the themed Discovery Kits, including identifying appropriate play material contents and a book selection for the theme, a poster with tips for extending learning through play in the library specific to the theme, hand-outs to take home with suggestions for further explorations through play with a booklist.

The new philosophy at the library is flexibility — “everything on wheels,” said Waconia Library Youth Service librarian Linda Prybylo. The furniture pieces that will feature the play materials are on wheels to accommodate space limitations of the children’s area in each library and other programming that happens in the space.

“Because there is limited storage space at many of the library locations, rotating the Discovery Kits to various branch locations will be quite helpful in expanding early literacy learning experiences at all of the libraries,” said Watertown Library Youth Services Librarian Kristin Jones.

In 2013, Carver County Libraries offered 600 Children’s Programs and Storytimes combined with a total of 15,183 children and 8,668 adults in attendance, compared to a total of 304 Adult programs with 3,236 attendees and 80 Teen programs with 358 attendees. Clearly the majority of library programming attendance is by young children.

A storytime at each library has been or will be presented by Youth Service Librarians based on the theme of the Discovery Kit as they arrive in each of the libraries during August and provide parents with the information and goal of the Discovery Kits for learning through play … so let’s play!

For more information on this project or on other library projects, services or items, contact any of the Carver County libraries.