Play Areas

Before and after programs, between browsing sessions or just as
an option for playdates, play areas in a library can be inviting spaces for families.

Depending on how much free space your library has, these areas can be anything from
a tucked-away corner with a few toys to a robust play space with train tables, a play house,
pretend kitchen and market areas, and more.

Suggested Items For Your Space

It is important to remember that children of all ages will be utilizing the play space,
regardless of how large it is. Unless you plan to have a gate with clear signage
indicating an age minimum (and likely even then), be prepared to only stock your play areas
with toys that are appropriate for even your youngest patrons. That means be on the lookout
for choking hazards, magnets, sharp edges, and other potentially dangerous objects.

Some suggestions for general play space contents:
* DUPLO or MegaBlox building bricks
* Wooden building blocks
* Play shopping cart
* Pretend food (plastic or wood)
* Puzzles (preferably wood) at different difficulty levels
* Bead maze
* Wooden train or other vehicles to pull
* Large vehicles (i.e. construction trucks)

If your library has sufficient space, other popular play area supplies include:
* Train table
* Play house (empty or with play surfaces)
* Play kitchen (stove, refrigerator, cabinets)
* Play market / lemonade stand
* Jumbo building blocks

Depending on the location of the play area, you may want to refrain from any toys
that make noise or encourage running, jumping, or throwing in the library.
For ease of cleaning, I recommend avoiding plush and/or fabric items, as well as
cardboard items such as puzzles or play food.


Unless you would like loose toys scattered all over your play space (and, possibly, the library),
you will need to put in place some kind of organization system. That being said, the
system will need to be simple and straightforward for families to follow it.

Clear drawers with laminated pictures of what goes in them can be effective, as can
open shelves, bins or baskets. Post a sign touting the importance of cleaning up
to encourage families to tidy up after playing. Here is a simple sign I made and posted in my library:

Clean-up Sign for Families


It is also important to note that whether or not you have a cleaning crew in your library,
the toys in your play area will need to be cleaned on a regular basis.
Keep this in mind as you are selecting which items to have available for play.
You may want to have a separate labeled bin available, as well, for families to
place items that have been placed in mouths or otherwise contaminated.

Having a large bin that can be filled with water and either diluted bleach or dishwashing soap
can be the simplest way to clean all plastic toys. Fill the bin 1/3 - 1/2 full with toys,
add water and cleaning solution, and soak, scrub, and rinse. Then spread out on a towel
or paper towel to dry. Wooden toys cannot be soaked, so wipe those down with a
gentle, nontoxic cleaner instead. For more tips on cleaning wooden toys, check out this article from BigJigs Toys.
Cleaning frequency will depend on usage. This can be a great job for a teen volunteer if one is available.