The spaceThere are a number of issues to consider when setting up a space similar to The Corner:
- identifying a suitable space
- developing a theme
- managing the build
- purchasing quality books and toys
- staff duties
- cleaning and maintenance
- evaluating, reporting and adaptation
Identifying a suitable space
Libraries come in all different shapes and sizes. Spaces for children do not need to be large or filled with technical equipment. The main requirements to consider are as follows:
- Accessibility - easy to find, wheelchair/pram accessible, close to toilets/baby change room.
- Safe and welcoming – sufficient lighting (preferably natural light), windows or sightlines back into the rest of the library, sufficient air circulation or air conditioning, uncluttered environment.
- Utilities – depending on the programs you wish to offer, it is useful to have access to utilities such as water and electricity.
- Resources – computers for children to use and a data projector are a great investment as they enable a wide range of programming possibilities.
- Flexibility of space and furnishings - ensuring mobility and flexibility of furnishings and shelving can provide a temporary children's programming space when a dedicated space cannot be made available.
- Child centred - Consider the needs/interests of children and families in your community. What are children interested in? What gaps in services for children exist in your community? When would children and families visit your library?
- Relevant and contemporary – Link to other events or resources in your library. Consider the events coming up in your community - how could you create an access point for children? Consider the resources you have in your community - what associations, expertise and materials are readily available?
- Multimodal - Develop a range of activities/experiences that draw on multiple intelligences and offer children a variety of ways to engage with the central ideas of the theme.
- Joyful – Develop props that inspire joy and excitement. Think about how children will see and experience the space. What can they do in the space? What makes that fun and engaging?
- Expertise - Identify local artists, associations and individuals having the necessary skills and expertise. Ask around at work - you’d be surprised what hidden talents people have, particularly with skills such as sewing, carpentry and painting. Develop partnerships with your local school, Rotary, Country Women’s Association, artist groups/associations and theatre companies - the skills required to create sets and props for theatre are not dissimilar to the skills needed to create a play space for children.
- Quality assurance – Provide artists with clear guidelines on your requirements. Make sure sets and props are made to the correct specifications. Remember you need to get them through the door! Have a clear vision for the colour palette of the overall build and communicate this to artists. Children have discerning taste and deserve a high quality aesthetic experience. A consistent colour scheme will also make the theme more cohesive, especially if you have multiple artists contributing to the build.
- Safety – Oversee the creation of all elements and consider the need for safety. Children can be very creative in the way they interact with objects so try and think through all possibilities and minimise danger as much as possible.
- Books - Books are a great way of engaging with a theme. Consider fiction and non-fiction, baby board books, picture books, books suited to reading aloud and resources for parents. Engage with your local library for advice and loans. Check online resources such as Tumble Books. Where possible, select books that have clear connections to the props, costumes and toys in the space. This will assist children to make connections between the content of the books and their own experiences during play.
- Educational toys - In selecting educational toys, consider the following:
- durability - wooden toys last much longer than plastic. Quality brands are also worth investing in.
- aesthetics/ design - is the toy inherently attractive and engaging? How does the product fit with the colour scheme of your theme?
- play possibilities - how many different ways can the product be used? Open-ended toys and craft materials provide flexibility and encourage imagination. For example, it is better to provide plain paper, markers and scissors than pre-cut templates.
- Set-up – Setting up resources in an inviting and accessible manner is crucial for a successful space for children. Art materials should be laid out in an organised manner and ready to use. Toys and props also need to be laid out in a way that invites children to play with them. Make connections between resources clear by placing them together. For instance, you might set up a book about gardening next to some gardening gloves, garden tools and pretend vegetables. Make sure sets are complete and reset toys throughout the day to keep the space organised and inviting.
- Welcoming – Staff duties in a children’s space are all about being a good host. Welcome children and carers to the space, introduce yourself and let them know what is available for them to do. Explain the theme and highlight fun activities they might like to try. Provide additional information on upcoming programs and events. Seek feedback on what visitors like about the space and what other experiences they would be interested in. Be aware of visitors’ needs for the duration of their stay so you can provide assistance as required.
- Interacting with children – The key here is to be friendly and welcoming, get down to the child’s level, listen to what they have to say and try and support them in what they want to do. This provides an opportunity to model positive interaction to parents.
- Quality assurance - Children deserve quality in the same way that adults do. It is disappointing for children to find puzzles with missing pieces and damaged or soiled toys. As such, monitor the condition of materials and fix or replace them as required.
- Cleaning products – Young children have a tendency to put things in their mouths so it is important to use cleaning products that are non-toxic. Citron is a widely available, natural disinfectant. Essential oils are also very effective in removing stickiness. Check labels and try to buy low allergy or natural products.
- Attendance - monitoring attendance over time will enable you to track the success of your program and alter your program so that it best meets the needs of your community. Here at the State Library, we count all visitors in our children’s space twice a day. Depending on your local community, surveying postcodes can also be useful.
- Feedback – Provide visitors with feedback forms and proactively seek feedback. Blank feedback forms are quite good as they encourage people to comment on what is important to them. Survey style forms should be used when more detailed or comparable data is required.
- Observation – Spending time in your children’s space is the best way to evaluate how it is being used and if it is meeting the needs and interests of visitors. Consider how people are using the space, what sort of groups come in and how long they stay.
- Adaptation – To keep your program relevant and vibrant, it is important to continuously reflect and evaluate success. Be flexible in the programs you offer and try new things.
Last updated: 23rd September 2011
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