When the Chandler Public Library got the opportunity to build a new library program, staff members used the opportunity to create innovative new spaces to meet the needs of some of Chandler’s youngest community members.
The Create, Play, Learn Spaces are located in each of Chandler’s public libraries and prepare children for kindergarten through rotating activities designed to help them with five critical skills needed for kindergarten: reading, singing, playing, writing and talking.
The spaces were created after the library received an LSTA grant (Library Services and Technology Act) administered by the Arizona State Library. The money allowed the library to create a space or program that met the most pressing educational need for Chandler residents.
The idea and design for the project were developed by Chandler’s library staff. In 2016, a study from the non-profit United Way found that 70% of
Chandler students living in two zip codes were not ready for kindergarten. Knowing this and understanding what is needed for kindergarten preparation, Chandler’s library staff designed a new way to prepare and engage children in the library.
“It started with the conversation around what we could use in our community,” said Deborah Moreno, a librarian with Chandler’s Sunset Library. “We all agreed we needed something to help with early literacy.”
Each Chandler library has its own space, and each one has a unique theme related to a piece of Chandler’s history or future as a community. The themes are: Garden (Sunset), Farm (Basha), Community (Downtown) and Technology (Hamilton).
In addition to the design themes, the spaces also feature varied focus areas for different types of learning, such as digital, tactile, creative, social, etc.
The activities and the look and feel in each space are different; however, they all advance the greater goals of the Library and work to increase early literacy for Chandler’s youth.
“The spaces are destinations on their own and function as their own spaces,” Moreno said. “But they work very closely with the overall purpose of the libraries.”
Keeping children and parents engaged with the activities is an important factor in making sure the spaces are effective at what they were designed to do. To help with this, library staff change out activities every two to three months to keep the experience fresh.
Moreno said studies have shown the importance of the five skills taught in the Create, Play, Learn Spaces for kindergarten readiness.
“We wanted to create spaces that convey the message that we try to instill in our programs, Moreno said. “They are a physical manifestation of everything we were doing in our programs to prepare students for school. The community response has been amazing.”
Beyond learning, the spaces are beautiful places that encourage children and parents to interact and appreciate the library and the Chandler community.
Jill Baker, a youth services librarian at Hamilton Library, shared a story that captured the spirit of the space.
“I walked by our new space and saw two young girls about age four sitting on a stool together in front of our iPad on a stand. The girls’ mothers had their cameras out and were recording the two girls, who had just met.
The girls were singing nursery rhymes from an educational game on the iPad. They sang ‘The Itsy Bitsy Spider’ and ‘Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star.’ I loved that even though the families were from different cultures, they were able to share this learning opportunity together with their children. It is one of my favorite moments I have witnessed so far in our new space.”
The spaces were completed in April 2019 and are now in the grant’s evaluation phase. In the future, the spaces may be modified or updated depending on how effective they are long-term.
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