LSC Journal Club: April 2018 Recap: Play and the Learning Environment

We had our third Library Services for Children Journal meeting this past Sunday.  We read two articles that explored play and the learning environment.  Here’s a quick recap of the articles and discussion points.  This post, except for the final thoughts at the end, was written by our group leader Jennifer Streckmann. Want to get involved with the LSC Journal Club? See if you have a local group or start one of your own!

Article #1: Play and the Learning Environment

  • This was an in-depth look at child play psychology as related to the physical space of the classroom, which can be extrapolated out to the library setting.
  • Includes good materials/equipment suggestions
  • Benefits of play include: development of motor skills, vocabulary growth, sharpening of the senses, increased concentration, expression of emotions—empathy, flexibility, sharing, turn taking—harmony, role taking, ordering, sequencing, expansion of imagination and creativity, and delay of gratification

Commonly recognized types of play:

  1. Functional play or exploratory play. This type of play is a sensorimotor approach in which
    a child learns the nature of his or her surroundings. Such examples include dumping, filling,
    stacking, water play, and outdoor play.
  2. Constructive play describes children combining pieces or entities, such as with blocks.
    The purpose of this type of play is to make something and/or work out a problem.
  3. Dramatic play entails pretending. The child pretends to be someone else, for example the
    teacher or a fireman. This type of play does not require any social interaction with other
    children. See the example provided below.
  4. Sociodramatic play is a form of dramatic play with more than one player socially interacting around a theme and a time trajectory over which the play continues and evolves. Children
    enact real-life types of play activities.
  5. Games with rules encompass cooperative play, often with winners and losers. These games
    are distinguished by child-controlled rules and thus are different from the competitive games
    usually called “sports.” Children begin the games with rules stage at about age 6.

Article #2: Influence of Number of Toys on Toddler Play

  • Interesting study that involved looking at the number of toys available, and how that affects how children interact with the toys.
    The first dependent variable was the number of incidences of toy play. Toy play incidents were operationalized to include observable engagement such as physical contact/manipulation of a toy and focused attention to play. (Greater in the 16-toy variable)
  • The second dependent variable was the duration of each toy play incident. The beginning of an incident occurred when a toddler purposely touched a toy. For an incident to end, a toddler’s attention must be distracted away from the toy and refocused to another element in the room. (Greater in the 4-toy variable)
  • The third dependent variable was the number of manners of play with each toy. Unique verbs were used to describe the manners of play (Bjorklund & Bjorklund, 1979). A manner of play was anything the child did to engage in play with the toy, for example actions such as drumming, dumping, exploring, pretending, matching, gathering, or inserting.(Greater in the 4-toy variable)
  • An abundance of toys present reduced quality of toddlers’ play.
  • Fewer toys at once may help toddlers to focus better and play more creatively.
  • This can done in many settings to support development and promote healthy play.
  • This study was quite limited in its scope as the sample size was small and it captured a picture of mostly middle class white female toddlers.

Group Activity: Planning a Library Space

The group participated in a ‘blue-sky’ activity where we paired off and re-designed a library space. Each pair was given a copy of the image below that depicted a children’s department. Then they were given a blank layout to design the space from scratch. After working in pairs we all shared our designs.

Discussion points included:

  • The importance of natural light in programming spaces
  • Including interesting conversation starters that invite patrons to speak with a staff member. This could be anything from a terrarium with butterflies to an engaging display which encourages the children to ask staff a question.
  • We often want to separate different age groups from each other, however a good point was brought up that this sometimes makes it much harder for caregivers to keep track of their whole family. Thus sightlines are very important.
  • Weeding was done by all groups, in an interest of using space for programming.

Final Thoughts

One of the reasons I love the LSC Journal Club meetings is that I start to think about things in a new way. After listening to many of the challenges libraries face (budget, staff, space) on their quest to design a play-friendly space, I had an “aha!” moment where I narrowed down three important factors to consider with regards to design in general. They are:

  • Focus on the Collection: Are displays placed where community members will see them? Is the collection well maintained and weeded regularly? Is the collection organized in a way that makes sense to kids and families? Is signage clear and attractive (not too much, not too little)?
  • Focus on Play: Are there opportunities for play in the library? Are there play opportunities for little kids and bigger kids? Do families feel comfortable playing in our spaces?
  • Focus on Relationship Building: Are there elements in the space that encourage kids and families to talk to staff? Are there opportunities for kids and families to contribute their ideas or thoughts to the space? Are staff regularly in the space to interact with the community?

We also talked about how important it is to observe your space. Some of the organizations in Vancouver like Science World do a great job of testing out their spaces and regularly observing them before making tweaks and changes. This of course requires time and energy but the resulting changes can be powerful.

That’s a wrap, folks!  Did you read the articles this month? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments!

 

4 thoughts on “LSC Journal Club: April 2018 Recap: Play and the Learning Environment

  1. I love the idea of the LSC Journal Club and I’m looking to start one in Kansas City, MO. Wondering if you have any advice on how to see if people locally are interested? I plan on contacting children’s librarians within the system I work for, however I wanted to try and reach people outside of my system that are in the area. Any advice would be welcomed.

    1. Hi Sarah, that is so exciting! Contacting the children’s librarians within your system is a great first step. Do you have a state library association with a youth division? They might perhaps have a list-serve you could email to find others who are interested. You could also try posting in the Storytime Undergound Facebook Group to see if anyone is nearby and wants to join you. And though it has the word “library” in the title, you are more than welcome to open it up to anyone working with small children, especially if you are in a smaller area or can’t find enough library people to join. I will put a call out on my Jbrary social media accounts to see if I can find anyone near Kansas City. Is it okay if I give them your email to follow-up with you? I can also list you on the “Find a Group” page on the LSC Journal Club website if you’re okay with that too. Hopefully we can drum up some interest!

  2. Unfortunately I’m not on Facebook, which is another hurdle when trying to find people who might be interested. I’ll look into a possible MLA youth services list services I could take advantage of, good idea. I also love the idea of asking people working with small children, at preschools or daycares. I would greatly appreciate you sharing my email on the website and asking around on social media. Thank you, I appreciate everything you do and will do!!

    My name on Twitter is @suruhjo

    1. Okay, I’ll add you to the LSC Journal Club website and start asking around on social media tomorrow 🙂

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