Surely children's books are the best reason to go to a library, right? Spotting a new book, flipping through the pages, finding new illustrators you adore, getting your kids excited about reading and just being surrounded by the richness of millions of BOOKS! That's pretty much the only reason to go to a library, am I right? Absolutely. Unless that library happens to be the newly renovated North York Central Library in Toronto. In that case, I'm a little embarrassed to admit, books don't even make my top 5. Let's just say that books are a given.
Now I know some people might think that toys and activities that create noise don't really mix well with a quiet library vibe. I get that. Whoever designed the new children's area also got that and did a good job sectioning off the kids area with glass panel walls. You still feel like you are a part of the bright and airy library but aren't worried about your kid being a bit noisy and getting grumpy stares.
So beyond the books, why visit? What makes this place a bit better? Lots of Toronto libraries have interactive play areas but I don't think any of them can match the scale of this one. It really is a huge space and we have averaged at least 2 hours per visit before we even look at the books.
Here is a break down of our favourite parts of the new library renovations.
1. Feltro magnetic tiles & light wall
These magnetic tiles were a hit with the kids and a favourite of mine because of their beautiful soft wool construction. Each tile contains magnets which means they can be connected together. My kids created patterns on the floor and on the metal wall. They built them straight up as well and made forts. You can find the Feltro website HERE but it is a bit of a tease as they are currently unavailable to purchase. They were created by a Toronto designer and the website describes the toy as, "...an interactive and dynamic creative thinking tool." I absolutely agree! We love the open-ended play opportunities presented by this unique product. No affiliations here either (and we can't wait for the chance to get our hands on them at home!).
In the pictures you can also see the light wall. It's made up of hundreds of small circular lights which kids can turn to change the colours or turn off. It is a wonderful sensory experience for little ones. Unfortunately my kids fell into the wrong age to find it fun. They were a little too old to simply be fascinated by the light and colour and a little too young to have enough patience to turn each light and create patterns or pictures. I was the perfect age though! I loved twisting and turning them and trying to create shapes using the colours.
2. Metal / magnetic wall
My pictures by no means show the actual size of this wall because I was trying hard to not include other people's children in my pictures. It goes up to ceiling height and is wide enough for lots of kids to be lined up and play all at once. All the parts on the wall are magnetic and can be removed and turned in any direction to connect to other parts. This wall involves so much natural learning! Kids can drop balls through the tubes which means they are investigating gravity, forces, energy, slopes and angles. They see how the ball reacts to what they built and adjust their tubes accordingly. They add parts and remove them. They trial and test their creations. It is practical STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) fun at its best! Not to mention the benefits to children's development when they work with a vertical surface. Read more about vertical surfaces HERE.
3. Wooden blocks
There are boxes of these wooden blocks located throughout the children's area. Nearly every table is full of leftover pieces, which is so lovely to see. Some might see a mess, but I see evidence of play! There are tall towers and small houses, pathways and train tracks, forts and staircases...beautiful engineering work in its early phases. I don't think I need to sell anyone on the benefits of building blocks, but just in case here are a few advantages of constructive play:
4. Ball ramps
This is another popular area which I couldn't fully capture on camera because I didn't want to get other kids in the frame. There are loads of pieces of track for kids to pull apart and re-attach as well as a few sets of stairs and ball launch areas. More than enough space for a good number of children to enjoy together. The library requires a library card to 'take out' a ball for using on the ramps, but we forgot ours and used some toy cars we happened to have with us. I think the cars were actually better since they didn't bounce at the end and roll half way across the library!
These tracks are the same as the ones you find at the Ontario Science Centre and a favourite of my kids. Skills that kids are developing while playing here include motor skills (pulling and pushing parts together), social skills (negotiating with others or normal play with other kids), observation (watching how balls react to heights and slopes), questioning (thinking about how gravity plays a role or how changing parts changes the outcome).
5. Interactive play and learning stations
This KidsStop (the name of the interactive areas at various TPL locations) theme is transportation. The area is designed like a city scape with a large urban mural, buses and cars, apartment blocks and subway stations. There are so many small details scattered throughout that it is impossible to document them all here. I have picked a few key parts but you really need to go and explore! The majority of the space is made of gorgeous solid wood, with things like the carved alphabet table (with real items matching every letter) just asking you to trace your finger along it (a great way to practise letter shapes).
The space really is an early learning dream. The wall pictured above is full of small cut outs and tiny hidden surprises to discover. Under the city you can find cross sections of wires and pipes, subway stations and lost items, old dinosaur bones and more. The bus has a lovely poem full of alliteration on the side. The words to "The Wheels on the Bus" float under the windows. The steering wheel and levers move. There is a measuring tape with coins from around the world running up along the side. So much thought was put into the space to make it accessible and relatable to the community who uses it.
The car and bus are large enough for 2 drivers as well as passengers in the back. Kids will be begging to drive their parents around and dramatic play will abound! There are holes to poke fingers and faces through, familiar nursery rhymes and songs, story prompts and more. I really can't say enough about the space and I'll just end this by saying if you live within a half hour of the library, it really is worth a visit. Heck, I'll even say if you live an hour away it's still well worth a visit. It's a library so everything is free of course! What better value can you get than that?
The North York Central Library is most easily accessed by the North York Centre TTC station. Let me know if you have managed a visit!
Hello! I'm Deb,
a book-toting mother of two and an elementary (primary) school teacher. I love making stories engaging and interactive for kids.
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