For the month of January, the Concord Free Public Library in Concord, MA transformed the Children’s Room into a pirate-themed Treasure Island for an extended program for children and their caregivers to take part in activities that engage the imagination and motor skills. Pirate PlayLand was part of a Mind in the Making grant, which promotes innovative library projects. The Concord Free Public Library (CFPL) created interactive play spaces that incorporated imaginative play with hands-on activities such as a large play pirate tent, tinker toys to build a pirate’s crow’s nest or walk the plank, and kinetic sand for treasure hunting. These activities promoted developmental skills and provided engaging family time. Children had the opportunity to explore simple concepts and discover great books while developing peer relationships with their fellow pirates.
The pirate-themed play area was created by rolling out a large map-of-the-world rug, popping up pirate ship and pirate fort play tents, and hanging up a sandy beach shower curtain as a background. Inexpensive pirate-themed party decorations including pirate flags, banners, and gold coins were hung around the room. Toy pirate ships were placed along with tinker toys and plastic pirate figures on the play table to give children the opportunity to construct a crow’s nest or make their pirates walk the plank. Pirate ships could navigate the open seas around the world while caregivers pointed out the continents as they lounged on the map-of-the-world rug.
Diving into the pirate theme was an entertaining way to educate parents and caregivers about how they can nurture early literacy skills. Pirate PlayLand invited children and adults to have fun while talking, singing, reading, writing, and playing. These five early learning practices, recommended by the Every Child Ready to Read® initiative, inspired a variety of activities during the month-long pirate exploration at the library. All of the activities that the CFPL offered aimed to combine play and literacy.
To promote conversation, a jumbo inflatable pirate greeted children at the entrance and encouraged them to go to the librarian’s desk and say “Ahoy” or “Hello” to receive their pirate stickers to enter the play area. Once in the play area, toy figures, puppets, and pirate costumes inspired children to create and share pirate stories. To incorporate singing, the librarian selected CDs for a lively musical background for children and their caregivers during the Friday morning Stay and Play programs. Simple children’s tunes with a Caribbean beat led to the little pirates singing and dancing a jig around the room. Since many kids love pirates, and there are several appropriate picture books to share with young listeners, incorporating reading into the program wasn’t a hard challenge.
A book display featured a range of pirate books including picture books, books for early readers, and nonfiction books. The picture book Pirasaurs! by Josh Funk was the springboard for children transforming cutout dinosaurs into imaginative creatures.
Activities that develop fine motor abilities in the fingers and hands are the basis of early writing literacy. Treasure hunting in kinetic sand and playing with pirate slime were fun ways to exercise fine motor skills and hand/eye coordination. It was no surprise that adults as well as children found the kinetic sand and slime irresistible – one touch and they didn’t want to let go!
Pirate PlayLand provided a variety of play experiences to reinforce language and literacy skills. The activities were designed to facilitate meaningful interactions between children and their caregivers. A variety of classic building toys (Legos®, Duplos®, Tinkertoys®, Lincoln Logs®, and Bristle Blocks®) combined with plastic pirate figures allowed children to develop their motor skills in a playful and creative way. Providing a large container full of these building toys gave children the opportunity for group play which encouraged social interactions with their caregivers and other children.
Pirate PlayLand was made possible with funding from a Library Services and Technology Act grant administered by the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners. The Mind in the Making grant objective is to “develop innovative programming and spaces that encourage invention and tinkering, where children ages 0-6 can explore simple concepts in tactile, real ways. This kind of space fuels a child’s natural curiosity and teaches valuable lessons by helping them develop fine motor skills, problem solving abilities, and peer relationships.” (See press release here.) The Concord Free Public Library has plans for a variety of themed play areas during the year including The World of Color exploring color with light boxes, a dance party with colored scarves, and mask-making inspired by Julia Denos’ colorful picture book Swatch: The Girl Who Loved Color. The Children’s Room of the Concord Free Public Library welcomes children to imagine, create, and play.
For more information, check out Ellen Galinsky’s book, Mind in the Making: The Seven Essential Life Skills Every Child Needs
Special thanks to Fayth Chamberland, Children’s and Young Adult Librarian, and Fiona Stevenson, at the Concord Free Public Library http://www.concordlibrary.org/
Every Child Ready to Read® @ your library®, PLA and ALSC logos are registered trademarks of the American Library Association and are used with permission.