by James Karney
When I was a little boy in Bristol, Connecticut, one of my favorite toys was a well-worn set of Lincoln Logs that belonged to my older brothers. I would spend hours building cabins and forts out of the pieces; I can still feel the smooth texture of the logs and green roof slats in my hands. I’d play with the plastic frontiersman and animals creating stories and dialog; occasionally a GI Joe would make an appearance too. Those are great childhood memories, but what do building toys like Lincoln Logs and Legos and blocks have to do with the library?
One role of the public library is to be a preschooler’s door to learning. As you already know, the library is a place children visit with parents and caregivers to be introduced to books and to begin to develop a love of reading, and learning. Library programs such as storytime help to develop school readiness skills such as listening, paying attention, following directions, and playing with other children. This, like many of the other programs and services of the library, folds into the one of the eight assumptions, of the Greater Waco Education Alliance. Participating in library storytime specifically addresses the first assumption, “Develop learning readiness and social skills before entering school (ages 0–4).” Storytimes for children are a staple of public libraries. At the Waco-McLennan County Library early childhood programming walks with children and parents from infancy with “Baby Time,” to “Toddle Time,” and then to “Pre-School Storytime.” (By the way, after a busy summer, Miss Vivian and Miss Stacy are taking a breather in August. Storytimes will resume the week of September 9th. )
Storytime is certainly an important stepping stone on the path to a love of learning, but at the library we recognize it is not the only stone in the path. In addition to weekly storytimes, the library offers other programming for children. Two programs we started last year have developed loyal and nearly overwhelming followings: a monthly “Lego Lab” for children 6-12, and a “Block Party” for Toddlers and Pre-K. Playing with blocks helps children develop motor, spatial, social and language skills and creative play. These skills are pretty obvious to anyone who has ever watched a toddler play and stack wooden blocks.
Not so obvious are the long-term science, math and problem solving skills being developed. These skills support the third assumption of the Education Alliance, “Master math concepts (ages 9 to 17).” The research makes this connection plain:
• A longitudinal study by Wolfgang, Stannard and Jones found that beginning in the middle school years and onward through high school that there was a positive correlation between pre-school block play and mathematical achievement. (Journal of Research in Childhood Education, v15 n2 p173-80 Spring-Summer 2001)
• A 2009 article by Sarama and Clements explores the benefits of block and Lego play. (American Journal of Play p313-337 Winter 2009). At younger ages, pattern recognition, colors, shapes and counting are central to block and Lego play and with age come more complex skill development.
• For the differently abled, a 2006 study found that therapeutic play using Legos has a positive impact on social skill development of autistic children. (Autism, v10, n4 p317-29 July 2006).
In addition to the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) benefits of block and Lego play, there are also language, literacy and social skills being developed. In group play with other children, a child learns about sharing and turn taking.
Playing with blocks is a terrific way for parents to bond with their children and to act on their role as a child’s first teacher. Children get the most benefit from block play when parents and caregivers get on the floor and play alongside their children taking the opportunity to teach colors and counting, to compare block sizes and shapes, and perhaps most important of all, to share vocabulary with the child. Vocabulary development is a key to learning to read. The more children are exposed to new and different words, the more success they will have in learning to read and developing their reading skills. One of the best investments you can make in your child’s education is to spend time with them whether it is reading books, playing with Legos, or just talking with them. Hart and Risley found children’s academic successes at ages nine and ten are attributable to the amount of talk they hear from birth to age three. Meaningful Differences in the Everyday Experience of Young American Children. (Brookes Publishing 1995).
The Library’s Lego Lab (Saturday) for children and toddler/Pre-K Block Party (Sunday) using Legos and blocks are held monthly. For days and times and to reserve a space for your child, visit the library’s online events calendar. The name Lego comes from the Danish phrase leg godt, which means “play well”, so come play well at the library and continue to Read, Waco, Read!
This Act Locally Waco blog post is by James Karney. James has worked in a library since his sophomore year in high school and is the Director of the Waco-McLennan County Library. He enjoys reading biographies, history, and spy/espionage novels. He has been married to the super amazing and talented Anita Karney for 20 years, and their son Jamie will start his junior year of high school this year – yikes! Visit the Library’s website, www.wacolibrary.org to explore all of our services, program and resources and “Like Us” on Facebook at, www.facebook.com/WacoLibrary.
If you would like to write a post for the Act Locally Waco blog, please contact Ashley Thornton by email at [email protected] .