A safari vest and plastic jungle hat are ready for checkout from the Lewiston City Library. That might not be what patrons typically picture on a library shelf, but Assistant Director Heather Stout believes they belong there.
Building early literacy skills for kids who aren’t yet in school isn’t about teaching them to read, Stout explained, it’s about getting them ready to read once they are in school — and that’s where the jungle hat comes in. The hat is a catalyst for developing narrative skills, which is technically what’s happening when your child puts it on and goes off to hunt for tigers in her bedroom.
And that’s why you can find a jungle hat — along with a safari vest, animal matching game, sturdy wooden jungle animal shape sorter, animal board book, picture book set in Tanzania and several activity sheets inside the Jungle kit, one of nearly 50 such literacy play kits that can be checked out from the library.
If this kind of learning sounds suspiciously fun, there’s plenty of kids who agree. The kits are a popular check-out item — the Doctor’s Office kit (with a coat and examination tools), Grocery Store kit (with a play cash register) and Animal Diversity kit (with several dress up noses, ears and tails) are among the favorites. Each kit comes with books, activities and items for play.
The first 20 literacy play kits were introduced when the library moved to its current location, though work began on them long before then. Although building early literacy through play is an emphasis for libraries nationwide, the idea of making related items available for check-out wasn’t something Stout had seen anywhere. She credits grant money and a group of retired teachers with getting the idea off the ground. Additional grants and community sponsorships have made later additions possible.
Potlatch Federal Credit Union is the first business to sponsor a kit and three Money Smarts kits were added to the collection last November. The contents are similar to those of the other kits, but with a money theme: an illustrated story about saving money, a money-related board book for younger users and billfold with play money. Also included are re-usable writing activity sheets, a cut-and-paste worksheet, a collection of simple poems and other activities. As a bonus, kids who check out the Money Smarts kit get to keep the plastic Potlatch credit union piggy bank that comes with it.
“It’s all about having fun and playing and through the play they’re building their knowledge base,” Stout said. The Money Smarts kit, for example, introduces counting, money recognition and the concept of saving in a simple, playful way and utilizes several early literacy skills like rhyming, writing and learning new words.
Their take-home popularity was no surprise for Stout — what was, however, was the amount of in-library use they get. Not only do grandparents, moms and dads pull out the sets when they’re visiting for storytime, but Stout has noticed that some parents meet at the library for playdates to play with them. Another thing she noticed over the holiday season was grandparents who checked them out for visiting grandkids.
The literacy play kits have a two-week check-out time and can be reserved online like any other Valnet item. The kit items are labeled and each kit includes a content list to minimize lost items, which are an inevitability. Returned kits are disinfected and replenished prior to reshelving.
Take-home learning play is available at other regional libraries including:
“L.O.C.K.E.R. Boxes from Neill Public Library in Pullman, which stands for “Learning Opportunities, Connecting Kids, Experiencing Reading.” Each of the 28 kits available for check-out includes items such as books, DVDs, activities and manipulatives.
Bonnie Belle bags from the Whitman County Library. Each of the nearly 20 take-home backpacks are age-specific and have a different theme. They’re available from various branches of the Whitman County Library.