New Oakmont Library Program Encouraging Playtime
The Oakmont Carnegie Library is putting resources, workshops and programs in place to increase its family-friendliness.
Librarians at the Oakmont Carnegie Library want children to talk in the library — and giggle, socialize, explore and play.
They want parents to encourage these behaviors and mingle with other parents there, too.
This may sound strange, but both the director of the library Beth Mellor and youth services librarian Karen Crowell said this is what they want the library to be — a community center where children, parents and caregivers can learn and interact.
It has become such a place with the help of a federal grant the library recently received and its impending designation as a Family Place Library by the Family Place Libraries organization.
The library now is a place where children can learn from both books and play, and parents can learn from each other, other resources and programs the library hosts, Mellor said.
The mission of Family Place Libraries is to expand what libraries offer and to evolve them into more "community hubs for healthy child and family development, parent and community involvement and lifelong learning beginning at birth," according to the organization's website.
Last year, the former director and former youth service librarian completed training at the Family Place Training Institute and left their materials and information with Mellor and Crowell to continue with the process of becoming a Family Place Library.
The final step in the process will include having a representative from Family Place Libraries inspect the library for these components to certify it, which Mellor said is a surprise visit and could happen at any time.
"We wanted to become a Family Place Library because it would benefit the community," Mellor said. "Anytime we have the opportunity to enhance the library and benefit the community, we take it."
Many areas in the library have been added to or updated to comply with Family Place Libraries specifications.
Toys, small chairs for children and a more comfortable seating area for parents are available in the children's section of the library along with children's books, CDs, DVDs and a parenting section.
The Acorn Room, located in the basement of the library, is a large playroom with a colorful rug, activity tables and even more toys. Book Buddies also is held in that room each week.
"Playing is the main way children learn, especially small children," Mellor said. "Little ones benefit so much from playing at their own speed and on their own time."
Kathleen Deerr, national coordinator for Family Place Libraries, also emphasized the importance of allowing children to play in order to learn.
"All the major, well-known, credible children's organizations are stressing the importance of bringing play back," she said. "A lot of play has been taken out of our children's lives for more rigid learning approaches. All of us learn through play, and it should be encouraged."
Crowell said playing teaches children to share, take turns, socialize and talk. Mellor said playing helps children become better citizens because of the skills they learn.
While the children are playing, parents are encouraged to observe not only their child, but others as well. Also, parents can talk with other parents.
"There can be a great deal of isolation if you're the parent or caregiver of a small child not enrolled in school," Deerr said. "Family Place Libraries programs offer resources and interaction with others experiencing the same things."
Crowell said the activities and programs help parents by showing them how to interact with their child. The library provides many toys and activity centers, such as a small kitchen, where parents see the types of toys their children are playing with and, Mellor said, provide examples of the more educational types of toys.
"The simpler the toy, the more complex the play, so you won't find anything here with batteries or crazy lights."
The library also hosts programs and workshops that bring in specialists on topics such as nutrition, the toddler years, speech therapy and early learning as part of its participation as a Family Place Library.
"We want parents to have the tools to continue what we try to do at the libraries," Deerr said. "What we do has little impact if parents aren't doing it, too."
Last April, Stay and Play, a weekly event the library hosts on Fridays where parents interact with each other and have their children interact with children their own age, was tailored to become a Family Place Library workshop.
Over a five-week period in addition to the standard Stay and Play structure, parents had the opportunity to gain advice from different types of specialists, who were observing the children and available to parents.
"Seeing their child with others of the same age offers a way for them to compare and either ease or raise concerns. The specialists we have here then provide information in a low-key, nonthreatening way," Mellor said.
Deerr said parents often feel like they can't ask questions when they're at the pediatrician's office with their child, and the specialists available during such programs as Stay and Play are more approachable.
"Parents are either rushed or there for a specific reason, such as an illness, and leave without asking additional, unrelated questions they may want to ask," she said.
Parents also learn about their child's behavior and why they might be doing certain things.
"A parent may get angry when their child throws a spoon on the floor over and over," Deerr said.
"We show them that the child isn't trying to be aggravating or misbehave. He or she is learning object permanence—the concept that an object still exists even if they can't see it."
Mellor said there are all different types of learning in children of this age group and the library helps them and their parents discover each one.
"For tactile experience, we introduce items that are soft or fuzzy and we enhance their fine motor skills with craft projects they can do," she said.