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Seeing a Playgroup as Tinkering

I had one of those eureka moments at a meeting a few weeks ago, when a fellow staff member was talking about her writing group and the importance of having open ended free writing components. I thought, "Hey that's tinkering too!" I think if we all look hard enough we can find lots of examples of tinkering that we do in our everyday lives or in already established library groups that doesn't have to involve electronics.

I've always been a "don't read directions first" kind of person, which was tough during my schooling years but that's the beginning of my tinkering. Can I figure it out without looking at the directions? We all develop educational and life strategies based in part by our personalities. For me, this tinkering led me to always jump head first into technology. I was never afraid of "breaking it." I'm the kind of person that purchases Adobe Photoshop and just begins by pressing all the buttons before I crack open a tutorial book (if I do at all). It's an unorthodox strategy but one that brings unique problem solving and unexpected confidence to the table. I learn different ways to do a variety of skills that works for me. It's the beginning of self-directed learning.

We recently started a playgroup for children under 5 in our children's department as an experiment to see if it would take off. When we talk to parents, they seem to always be looking for safe, appropriate places to play with their child and meet other parents especially in the winter. One of my friends always tells me that she goes to libraries during long car rides with her 1.5 year old as a break in between destinations when she gets fussy. Although they can always play with our puzzles and blocks that we provide in our children's room, the opportunity for interactions in the space could be limited.

Sometimes as librarians, we can really over think programming. For instance in our playgroup, we could have made flyers with instructions and explanations for each table with early literacy definitions but have you ever tried to read a paragraph with a 3 year old? It's hard! With that in mind, playgroups can foster that "no directions" tinkering as well. We set up stations with early literacy inspired tools that invited children and parents to explore and interact with each other but we don't tell them what to do at each station. This also helps keep parents engaged. One of our biggest stations was building. We had cardboard blocks, magnet blocks, and Duplo blocks with a Duplo table top. We also had these wonderful Duplo Read, Build kits that included a picture book story with building activities.   

Another hot station was the magnet and chalk boards. We purchased stove top covers from a thrift store and chalk board spray painted them (Thanks Pinterest!).  This became dual purpose because you could put letter magnets on it or practice your own letters or even learn to rhyme. Many parents began spelling the names of their children, the beginning of letter recognition. We never told them to do this, they just began prompting on their own or taking cues from other parents.

For our sensory bin we were recently shipped a box of Mango promotional material with orange and green shredded paper which we hid figures in to find. The kids enjoyed playing in the paper, especially putting it on parent's heads.  Caution: it DOES get messy.

As librarians, we are experimenters. We try different programs without a guarantee of how they will work but we jump in time and time again, mostly without instructions from other libraries on how a program is done. We find what works for us and we constantly try to improve and try new things. We also receive unexpected results. One mother had said how nice it was to not be distracted by all the other things in her house while playing at home which sounds a lot like why I can successfully go to the gym but the treadmill at home collects dust.

Our playgroups are on Fridays after Gather Round story time at 11:00am. Registration is required.


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