The room at Shadle Public Library filled quickly as parents and preschoolers gathered for story time on July 3. Always a popular activity, story times at the Shadle and South Hill branches are drawing even more participants since incorporating something new in March.
A hint of that new twist was revealed as two young boys chatted while waiting for the first story to be read.
“Where are the toys?” the first boy asked.
“In that cupboard over there,” his new friend replied. “Have you been here before?”
His buddy nodded, then asked. “How old are you?”
“I’m 5. How many are you?”
That stumped his blond friend for a moment. “Mom, how many am I?” he asked.
Eva Silverstone, library communications manager, said, “We’ve always done our best to make story time fun for children. But it’s a learning experience too, and kids learn by playing as well as by reading.”
To incorporate more time for fun, the Shadle and South Hill branches have added 30 minutes to their preschool story times. At Play and Learn Storytime, after a half hour of stories, songs and fingerplays, children and their caregivers are invited to spend the next 30 minutes playing with toys provided by the library. Staying for the playtime is optional, but Sally Chilson, youth services coordinator said, “Ninety-percent are staying.”
That additional time for play yields several benefits. “Story time is often kids’ first exposure to social interaction,” Chilson said.
Indeed, the two boys demonstrated how quickly bonds can form when kids, books and toys are combined. Sumi Shadduck, youth services librarian, welcomed the crowd, and said, “We’re going to have some stories, then what are we going to do?”
“Get the toys out!” shouted the 5-year-old boy. His young friend clapped his hands in anticipation.
But first there were stories to enjoy. Some children were quite frank in their assessment of the reading material. When Shadduck finished a story and asked, “Did you like it?” a girl in the front row answered: “Well. It’s kinda short.”
The next story proved more to her liking.
“The goal is to expand the learning that happens during story time,” Chilson said. “It’s about exploring their world and early literacy. The toys are designed to be used for grownups to play and interact with children.”
When the last story was read, the children hustled to the cupboard to help Shadduck fetch the toys.
Soon block towers grew high above the littlest arms. Straws and connectors proved to be the most popular toys. “Kids start playing individually and then as projects grow,” Chilson said, “they start to interact and play together.”
Shadduck agreed, adding, “Preschoolers are friendly, but some like to share and some don’t.”
This crowd happened to be populated with the sharing kind. Kids clustered around puzzles and huddled around bins of wooden blocks. Parents and caregivers mingled, most sitting on the floor with the children.
The kids working cooperatively to construct elaborate structures with straws and connectors demonstrated Chilson’s point. “Play and Learn Storytime is all about the fun and play – the learning just happens naturally.”