Toronto Public Library literacy playgroundWow – take a look at this. Here’s a story in the Toronto Star telling us about the new children’s area in the new S. Walter Stewart branch of the Toronto Public Library, which features a “literacy playground” the likes of which plenty of us envious librarians who have created programs for babies, toddlers, and preschoolers would like to see in our own libraries.

The literacy playground cost the library about $100,000 CDN, and was designed by the same folks who create exhibits for big-time children’s museums. The Star‘s story says:

To the right is the rocket ship, with small benches inside and a bin full of puppets for the puppet theatre cut out at the back.

Big wooden cubes on the floor offer all kinds of letter and shape activities.

The “wall of blocks,” created by the Ontario Science Centre, retells poems and nursery rhymes; a cursive writing table has letters carved into the top for children to trace. Two toddler computers, with brightly coloured keyboards and tiger-ear headphones, link directly to online books.

A big, red mailbox encourages children to write letters and “mail” them to librarians and there’s also a giant version of “Read Me A Book,” by local Toronto writer and artist Barbara Reid, mounted kid-height on the wall.

I would love to see how this idea of creating play areas that celebrate literacy develops. There’s no way to put up literacy-oriented play areas cheaply; it’s hard to come up with equipment that will give very young children the kind of sensory challenges they need, yet won’t fall apart when older, rougher kids spin and bang and toss all its parts to their limit. I hope these “KidStops,” as they’re called, will be successful.

And I like the way that the library has taken the six pre-literacy skills from “Every Child Ready to Read” and redefined them in a way that parents and caregivers with limited education – the ones who you always want to reach most – can understand. For example, the icky term “phonological awareness” becomes simply “I hear words” and “print awareness” becomes “I see words.” A great restatement; we should all use it.