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!
Children's books and learning go hand in hand for me. For ten years in a classroom, I structured entire units of learning around either mine or my class's favourite stories. Whether the kids were 11 years old or 4 years old, picture books and novels were always our leaping off point for learning. Now that I have kids of my own, that hasn't changed. Except we use books as a starting point for our play and exploration.
So why do we play with our books? Taking ideas or characters from a story and creating playful opportunities with them really helps deepen our understanding of what is going on in the text. Interacting with a book through a craft or sensory activity appeals to different learning types because it is now kinesthetic (hands on) as well as auditory (hearing) and visual (seeing). The more we understand, the more we tend to enjoy something.
Now I can't say this enough to parents - helping your child develop a love and joy of reading is one of the most important things you can do for them in life. It quite literally can level the playing field for their learning journey. Studies have proven that pupils who read for pleasure are at more of an advantage than pupils with parents who went to university. So KIDS WHO READ FOR FUN have an advantage that is FOUR TIMES GREATER than the advantage you already gain if you have a parent who attended higher education (read more from the study HERE). That stat just blows my mind every time I hear it.
So yeah, playing with books is a pretty big priority in our house. A few months back I was lucky to meet some other ladies online who also feel pretty similar. They value play as much as we do and like to get creative with their books. I wanted to highlight a few of them here so you can have even more places to turn to when you need bookish inspiration!
If you aren't on Instagram yet, my only question is why not? I know some people don't like sharing personal photos so they shy away from certain types of social media. These days though, social media is more like a massive resource bank and community group. You don't even have to share photos to take advantage. Want a recipe? Search a hashtag. Enjoy interior design? Search a hashtag. Want a suggestion for what to read next? Search a hashtag. Thinking about getting a tattoo? Search a hashtag.
Love these book inspired play ideas? Then try out the hashtag #bookishplay. It now has more than 2,000 tags on Instagram. Teri from @petitbookcorner (pictured above), gathered the group together and got the ball rolling with the #bookishplay tag. It really is a great way to find ideas for activities that you can pair up with books. Other great hashtags for book and play ideas are #bookinspiredplay, #beyondthebook, #bookactivity.
Do you have a favourite book and can't find an activity to go with it? Here are some simple ways to to design your own book inspired play.
1) Create, colour, make!
Art projects are one of the easiest ways to interact with books. In Teri's example above, they made the paper dolls from the story. For little ones, adults can always draw or cut the main shape and little hands can colour and decorate. In the example below from Lycie at The Paige Diaries, they used the beautiful illustrations in The Rainbow to inspire their art. You can simply colour a picture of a character or try to sketch in the style of the artist. You can sculpt an object from the story or build one out of paper. Possibilities are as endless as your art supplies!
2) Sensory trays
Little kids and big kids alike enjoy plunging their hands into interesting materials. Anyone who goes to preschool or has been to a play group will have experienced a water or sand table. They are always popular and not only because they appeal to the senses. Kids can scoop, pour, separate, cut, ball up, toss and crumble the materials. Don't stop at water and sand though. Try oats, like Lycie did (above right) to go along with Goldilocks and the Three Bears. Try stones, water beads, pine cones, corn kernels, cloud dough. Can you create a scene similar to one in a book? Add a toy or character similar to one in the book? Get creative and remind your little ones of the story as they play by using vocabulary from it or encouraging talk about the characters.
3) Story baskets & Invitations to play
An invitation to play is a sort of curated play space. You might choose a set of toys that go well with your story and leave them on a table with a book for your child to discover after a nap, before dinner (while you are making it!) or when they get up in the morning. If you can read the book again together, even better. Then let your little one explore what you have left for them. There might be finger puppets like Sian had out above, to go along with Little Red Riding Hood, or a cape for some imaginative play. We explored books about colour once and our invitations to play were simply a collection of toys that were the same colour. The important thing is to let your child lead the play and not to have expectations that they will fully recreate the story or build a masterpiece with the materials.
4) Invitation to create
Similar to above, an invitation to create is when you leave a set of materials out and allow kids to explore them as they choose. Jacqui at Playful Wren set up a lovely craft prompt to go with See You Later Alligator (above right). Depending on your child's age, they may just mush, stick, bend or fiddle what you left out. If they are a bit older or very craftily inclined they may create an amazing character from the story. The important part is that they are engaging with the story in any way they choose.
5) Review a concept
Often books present important concepts that you probably want to reinforce. It could be about kindness. Or part of a bedtime routine. Or a safety concept like waiting at traffic lights, like you can see Meg from Bedtime Stories Forevermore worked on in the picture (above right). Books are so valuable when it comes to learning life skills, so playing with those ideas and rehearsing them can really help our little people remember to use them.
6) Be the character!
This was one of my absolute favourite ways to make books come to life in the classroom - by doing what the character does! Think about what the character is doing in the story. Is there anything you can recreate together? Scroll back up to see how Teri put on a tea party to go along with The Tiger Who Came to Tea. Kim from Book Bairn (above) had her wee one try out new shells like in the story Norman's New Shell. My little guys loved writing invitations to post after reading Postman Bear. It might take a bit more thought and creativity to come up with, but this kind of play is one of the best.
So there are 6 ways to get started with your own book inspired play. We haven't even touched on bringing in more traditional learning like the alphabet and numbers. We'll leave that for another post but you can search one of the bookish hashtags we suggested and you'll see lots of ideas for those. Also, we've included a list of all the other #bookishplay participants from July below. Please do click through to their Instagram accounts for an absolute treasure chest of play ideas.
Our Halloween book choices and activities have been filling up our Instagram feed this month. Have you had a chance to check them out? We have now posted them all on the website so you can come back for them any time. This is just a peek at some of the fun we have had.
We started off with Goldfish Ghost by Lemony Snicket. Using some leaves from our garden, we painted spooky ghosts on them to hang up as decoration. We also tried some scissor practise for toddlers, with chalk drawing and googly eyes, inspired by the ghosts in the story!
See our Goldfish Ghost activity page HERE!
Little Boo was probably our favourite new find this season. It is such a sweet story, you have to check it out. If you are a teacher or homeschooler, this book would be great for examining life cycles of plants. We looked at pumpkin seeds, did some sensory play with all the pumpkin goop, made our own cardboard pumpkin and wrote about things we can't wait to do when we grow up!
See our Little Boo activity page HERE!
J is for Jack-O-Lantern turned out to be way more than just an ABC book. There are loads of interesting facts in there which make it appropriate for older readers while the ABC factor is great for younger ones.
We decided to make some play dough jack-o-lanterns and did a shadow and light investigation with our pumpkin templates.
See our J is for Jack-O-Lantern activity page HERE!
Our final read was probably the spookiest of them all! A few household objects come to life which might scare some younger readers (but is a really fun read for anyone who can handle it). To offset any fear, we made light of objects coming to life by adding adorable little eyes to furniture around our house.
See our Rules of the House activity page HERE!
Do you have a truck loving tyke in your house? Read on for a recap of our favourite truck related books and fun activities to help bring the books to life. They are all loaded on the website now for you to enjoy. We started with the now classic Goodnight, Goodnight, Construction Site. We did some shadow shape matching, an invitation to play (wash any trucks lately?), made a yummy truck 'dirt' cake and worked on some initial sounds linked to truck names.
Read more on the Goodnight, Goodnight activity page HERE.
Little Excavator is brought to you buy the author of Llama, Llama, Red Pajama and is just as cheerful and wonderfully rhythmic. We did some sensory play with our little trucks and made some noise inspired by all the amazing sounds in this book.
Read more on the activity page for the book HERE.
This book was a library find that was a winner because of all the different trucks on its pages. Our activities included lining up our own trucks in order of size, practising some truck patterning and making truck parts out of play dough.
Read about these activities in more detail on the book page HERE.
Ever since finding this book, our play has been filled with shouts of, "My truck is stuck!". I think it is a new favourite. So of course we had to do some activities based on trucks that are stuck. Try out our early STEM task comparing heavy and light objects or our bone counting task for preschoolers.
Read more about both HERE.
I was aiming to work a little bit here and there all summer to update the website. In reality, I spent a lot of time in the pool with my kids and didn't think much about this website at all. It felt great.
Once school was back in session however, I worked every minute possible trying to finish up everything. Although I had been sharing ideas on Instagram daily since April (and rather sporadically before that), it isn't really a user friendly search tool. I wanted to share the activities and books in a more useful way.
So it is finally ready! You can search by book in alphabetical order on the main page or look through alphabetical themes (trucks or underwater etc) by hovering over the tabs at the top of the page.
If you want us to review or cover any specific books, please get in touch. We are happy to do that! We are aiming to update the website monthly with our daily Instagram ideas...but let's not get too far ahead of ourselves just yet!
Summer and water go hand in hand, so we have been looking at some of our favourite books with an underwater or ocean theme. The website is now updated with the activities, so you can find them again easily! The Octonauts are big in our house and have taught us more about creatures under the sea than anything else. Some fun ideas to go along with the books include making ocean mosaics, catching alphabet fish in a net, creating habitat sensory trays and tracing your favourite creatures!
Read more about the Octonauts' activities on our book page HERE.
Julia Donaldson is another firm favourite in our house. We were lucky enough to see Tiddler performed on stage in London a few years back. Some activities we did to go along with this story-telling fish include making story-telling rocks, new vocabulary cards, LEGO and Duplo fish and learning roman numerals along with the clock in Tiddler's classroom.
Read more about our Tiddler activities on our book page HERE.
Requins by Owen Davey was a library find. This is a french version of his popular English version. The illustrations are enough to keep you entertained, even if you don't speak a word of French! Some activities we did to go along with this beauty include drawings based on the book, DIY puzzles and large scale chalk drawings of the large beasts found on the pages.
Read more about our Requins activities on our book page HERE.
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.
Find us here too: