Dynamic spaces for children in libraries – Play Pod at State Library Victoria, Australia
Connecting with our youngest visitors, State Library Victoria’s Play Pod offers a range of activities for children to read, create and play. Our Play Pod space is seasonally inspired by a children’s book, transforming narratives into tactile learning experiences, which support children to develop a love of books and storytelling. As part of increasing our offer and outreach for this audience, State Library Victoria’s redevelopment project, Vision 2020, will include the construction of a purpose-built dedicated space for children and families.
Australian State Library Victoria’s Play Pod offers an interactive and inclusive space for children to discover the joys of books, stories and illustration. Our space is seasonally based on a children’s book, designing a range of activities which allow children to form a deep connection with storytelling whilst supporting their early literacy skills. Our current theme, Mr Chicken Arriva a Roma, is inspired by Australian Children’s Laureate Leigh Hobbs’s newest release in the Mr Chicken series. Mr Chicken’s Roman adventures are brought to life as children aged up to 8 years participate in a variety of activities, such as hopping on a toy Vespa, dressing up as Mr Chicken or tour guide Frederica, playing with strings of giant spaghetti, using blocks to build a mini version of the Colosseum, making a wish in the replica Trevi Fountain and taking tourist snaps.
Previous book-based themes in the Play Pod space have included A River by Marc Martin, Are We There Yet? by Alison Lester, Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak, Eric Carle’s The Very Hungry Caterpillar and Andy Griffiths and Terry Denton’s New York Times best-selling Treehouse series.
Mr Chicken Arriva a Roma has already received an incredible response from families, highlighting the important role that libraries have in connecting children with the joys of narrative and illustration. Families are able to observe and contribute to collections of children’s artwork in the space, developing new ideas as other contributors add their artwork. As part of creating an inclusive and engaging space for children, Play Pod aims to support literacy in playful and creative ways. Children can explore aspects such as dramatic role play, object play and social play as part of developing a lasting and positive relationship with books, reading and storytelling.
Most importantly, Play Pod offers a balance of self-directed activities that place children at the centre of their learning. It also encourages families to share the enjoyment of reading together. The space provides an interactive opportunity for children to engage with State Library Victoria’s incredible collections (for example, replicating heritage and rare images onto magnet boards), highlighting that the Library is a place for everyone.
From December 2016 to February 2017, we are very much looking forward to transforming Play Pod into New York City! Inspired by Gus Gordon’s Herman and Rosie, children will be swept away by the sweet sounds of jazz, able to explore the hustle and bustle of the Big Apple, swing by the toy hotdog stand and experience the delightful tale of friendship and music.
Library activities and development
Play Pod hosts our popular early years programs, Baby Bounce and Storytime. These sessions offer shared reading of themed books, rhymes, songs and craft activities, all of which support pre-literacy skills and model ways for parents to embrace their role as their children’s first teacher. These programs receive the largest multicultural audiences across the Library’s programming and can see up to 400 attendees each week! The Library achieves significant outreach to many families from CALD communities and supports their bilingual language and literacy development.
The redevelopment project, Vision 2020, will see the construction of a dedicated space for children and families within State Library Victoria. The South-west Courtyard, which is off the main information centre and currently known as Experimedia, will be transformed into a purpose-built space for children, their parents and carers. Construction will begin in 2017 and is due for completion in 2020.
A dedicated space for children is part of a commitment by the Library to become an institution with no barriers – accessible to everyone and welcoming to all. Building on the success of the Play Pod space, the new children’s courtyard will contain zoned areas for children up to 12 years of age, expanding on the current offer for 0–8 year olds. Complete with a new family room and accessible toilets, the courtyard will be a haven for children and their families. An area for sensory play is planned for the youngest visitors, aged 0–2, while 2–5 and 5–7 years olds will have their own areas with furniture, books and toys that appeal to their age groups. Children aged 7–12 years old will be able to find refuge in their very own mezzanine level, which will house a maker space underneath for creative activities.
The focus on extending the Library’s services to young learners and families will also result in an increased browsing collection in the new courtyard space. Being the state’s premier reference library, State Library Victoria’s current children’s collections are tailored for research purposes – containing a number of heritage items and intended mainly for use by adults. Having books on hand in the new space for children to read is key in supporting them to develop a love of books and storytelling, and will help provide essential foundations for early literacy.
We will continue to run our popular Baby Bounce and Storytime programs in the new dedicated children’s space, with a corner specially earmarked for storytelling. Co-design workshops were conducted with current Play Pod users to inform the Vision 2020 redevelopment, and while we can’t promise that everything on the wish list will be included (the fire truck and elephant to ride on may be out of scope!), there have been some wonderful suggestions of how we can create a space that will be of most benefit to this key audience.
Family Programs Officer, State Library Victoria, AUS
Family Programs Coordinator, State Library Victoria, AUS