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!
I started this blog to motivate myself to create more interesting and meaningful play for my kids. I suppose it was also to get myself to document more of what my kids do at home day to day. Looking back over the past two months, I think I have done just that. It certainly makes my days busier and more hectic, but in a good way. When I was a classroom teacher, my life was insane! I was at school from 7am until 4pm most days. I rushed home for a short play, then dinner and bedtime routine. Once bubs was settled, I would sit up marking and/or creating resources all night. Saturdays were devoted to kids but Sundays were once again planning/resourcing/marking. I spent hours creating fun learning opportunities for other people's children. It felt like I could never catch up with my own life and the time with my kids didn't always feel like it was 'quality'. Hence our decision to move back to Canada and for me to stop teaching (for a while).
When we first got to Canada, there were a lot of other things keeping us busy. We had to sort out our living situation, unpack, complete multiple renovations, catch up with old friends, visit relatives, sort out health care, schooling, find jobs etc. Just getting 'life' working seemed to take months. Actually, about half a year!
I have digressed, as usual. I just wanted to say that I'm happy with the direction this blog has taken. I'm sure everyone starting a blog has a number of hesitations and direction changes as they move along.
I used to love planning school lessons and units around books. I wasn't quite sure I could make it work at home, but I think I'm getting there. Usually an idea pops into my head as we are reading books together before bed. After they are asleep, I will sit and plan some play activities to follow up with over the next few days and then revisit the book again to really link the ideas together. The other way I've been planning is using a current interest of theirs and then visiting the bookshelf or library to find books that relate.
My toddler is a huge fan of all things on wheels at the moment - especially construction vehicles and emergency vehicles. And trains. And planes. Okay, anything on wheels. Lately he has been going around and putting out fake fires, which always makes us giggle. Out of nowhere he shouts, 'Fire!' and then uses his arm like a hose and makes a 'shhhhhh' noise of water spraying. So I thought I would plan some stuff around that. We really lucked out last weekend when we went to an event where all the city works vehicles were there and the kids got to climb inside them all (fire trucks, diggers, garbage trucks, you name it). They also got all sorts of cool little handouts like plastic firemen hats, activity books and build your own fire trucks.
So to start my fire truck theme, I set up an invitation to play. I included lots of things to manipulate like letters, wooden blocks, little people, various fire trucks, tissue paper fires, a library book we got about fire stations, the build your own fire truck from city event and of course the fire hats. Since my older one was home, the play took a turn towards building. They put fire out by smashing the blocks down and then rebuilt them over and over. It is funny how differently my toddler will play when he is alone and when he is guided by his sibling's influence.
Later on I got out our string activity book which has a fire truck page (picture above). They did that together really cooperatively. We also worked through one of the fire activity books that was handed out on the weekend. There was a lot about fire safety in it, so I am planning a bit of hands on fire safety. I am hoping to build a fire together outside and discuss how to keep safe around it. This will be good preparation for being around camp fires this summer! I'm also planning a few outside games with our water pump/squirters. Not sure what I will build yet, but something that resembles a fire that they can aim for and knock over. I'm sure it will turn into some wet sensory play all on its own. For a more physical activity, I want to set up a fire person challenge - a little obstacle course that will involve climbing a ladder at the end. Finally for a quiet activity aimed at my toddler I want to try and sort out some objects into groups of 'hot', 'cold' and 'warm'. The in-between category is pretty tricky for him, so I thought this was a perfect time to review it with him. Of course I'd like to throw in some kind creative/messy arts and crafts, but that idea is still in the works.
As usual I'll be posting all my ideas on Instagram, so please do check it out for updates! I hope loosely explaining my planning process helps someone else in a small way! I'm always interested in seeing and hearing other peoples ideas and how they come up with them. That is probably why Instagram and Pinterest are such guilty pleasures!
Mark making or putting pen/crayon/pencil to paper, whatever you want to call it, was never something my boys had much interest in when they were young. If we talk about table activities - then mine love crafts and painting, cutting and pasting, gluing and sticking, but are/were not huge colouring fans or 'mark making' fans. My 4 year old started kindergarten and still wasn't interested. A tiny piece of me worried a bit, as much as I told myself not to. A few months into kindergarten though and he was writing up a storm. His letters are hard to read and all over the place with size and shape, but that part really doesn't worry me. He likes writing. That matters. He enjoys it. That matters.
I thought with my younger one perhaps I needed to present more opportunities to draw and colour. I was on the ball with early letter recognition (see my last post about having the alphabet in about a hundred places in our house) but maybe I didn't pull out the pencil enough? Who knows...it is all trial and error with parenting because each kid is so different.
Surely repetition is key to all learning, but I think especially so with younger learners. It is common sense really, the more you see, hear, say, explore and practise something, the more likely you are to really remember and know it. I always felt like it was difficult to do enough repetition of skills in my (older level) classrooms because the curriculum had so much packed into it. There was so much to cover, we were lucky to get back to main topics two or three times in a year. This is yet another point on my list of 'why I should home school', but we'll leave that discussion alone for now.
I recently posted about an ABC book on Instagram (see it here). My toddler has really been getting into his ABCs lately and is starting to recognise certain letter shapes. As I went around the house to look for some alphabet related activities we could do, I was actually a bit shocked at how much I found. Maybe it's because I'm a teacher? I've been subconsciously collecting alphabet items for the past five years?
I'm going to blame the fact that my closest friends are all teachers and get my kids the best gifts. However it happened, it is definitely a good thing. My kids will certainly see, touch, hear and play with the alphabet without every having me thrust flashcards in their faces. Not that there is anything wrong with flashcards. I just feel like they tend to used the wrong way with little ones more often than not. Repetitive learning is possible for toddlers, preschoolers and older children, without the need for tools like flashcards. Below are a list of just some of the alphabet related items my kids play with, that I found around our house.
I had never really heard of an 'invitation to play' before I became a mother. The majority of my teaching career was with older kids, so our learning was set up quite differently. Since having kids though and moving to work with younger children, it is something I encountered quite a bit. In the UK, children can start school as young as age 3. They don't have to, but the option is there. In Canada it is similar, kids can start at age 4 (JK) but don't have to legally be in school until age 6. After returning from my second maternity leave, I had the pleasure of covering in a nursery class (age 3-4) quite frequently for a term. It was lovely to see how they invited kids to play at various tables and stations throughout the room and in the outside space.
Even if you've never heard the term before, an 'invitation to play' is pretty self explanatory. If you make a space look appealing or interesting, children will come and investigate. That is really what 'learning' at age 3 looks like. I'm not going to pretend that I do this every day in my own house, but I do try to set something up each week for my toddler. It is in no way on the scale I would set up a classroom, but I like having a little table in the play room that I change around. It sometimes makes old toys seem interesting again.
I'm pretty excited these days because my 2 year old is really into naming colours. I love, love, love this age! Listening to his language develop and increase, blows my mind. I also happen to love colours and it is a natural stage all kids go through. Everything we see walking down the street gets labelled by its colour. Every toy is called by its colour. Colour is everywhere! It is probably one of the first adjectives that children start to use naturally when describing things. Don't let that skill pass them by!
Aside from inviting my kids to play with particular toys, I always like to link our play with a story. We visit the library all the time to keep on top of things but also have a pretty big collection of books. Loads of baby board books cover the colours but my favourite has to be a colours primer by Jennifer Adams. She has a whole series based on famous pieces of literature but that really focus on things like shapes or numbers or emotions. If you haven't seen them before, check them out.
Real life learning or authentic learning. When it happens naturally, it makes me want to home school my boys so much (but that is a whole other topic!). To me the key part of authentic learning, is the follow through. In a classroom you are often in the middle of 'something' when a great question comes up. Lots of times you can pause and call everyone together and discuss the question. Pick it apart as a class. Debate it. Leave the kids energised by this 'surprise' learning.
Sometimes though, you are right in the middle of a task that you can't really stop. You say to everyone, 'Remind me after lunch', but that doesn't always happen. It is the same at home with kids. The timing isn't always perfect to stop and answer questions. Maybe one kid is screaming or dinner is burning or you've been trying get everyone in bed for an hour. So I try, try, try to remember to answer the next chance I get. Follow through. It feels so good when you do.
This week my little one's nap ran late, so I got to pick up my older one from school all on my own. It's always a bit more peaceful and I enjoy the talks we have as we walk home. As we wandered, he noticed that yellow flowers were popping up everywhere. Yellow is his favourite colour, so he loved this and ran over to pick one for me. When we passed a man squirting the yellow 'flowers', he asked why. I explained that most people considered dandelions to be weeds and wanted to get rid of them. This started a long discussion of how weeds can take over and how dandelions in particular spread their seeds. I reminded him of one of my favourite pictures from Richard Scary.
I was a bit anxious to get home since his brother was napping and hadn't been well. I didn't want him to wake up with only grandpa there and be upset. But our talk was so nice and we started spotting dandelion leaves all along the path. He realised that pretty soon there would be yellow flowers absolutely everywhere. Soon we were down on our knees, looking at leaves with buds in the middle and he asked what happened to the green leaves. I explained how they protect the bud and we looked at a fully opened flower and compared. We found one half way popping out and talked about all three of them. He tried counting all the buds he could see, but there were just too many.
Then I had a memory of a book we had at home about a city of guinea pigs who ate up all their dandelion leaves. The hero is Christopher Nibble, who finds one last dandelion and replants it, waits patiently and then blows all the seeds across a field. We hopped up and headed home to dig the book off the shelf. My little one was fine of course and I was so glad we hadn't rushed home. Our impromptu science lesson was beautiful. It was meaningful and I know he'll remember it. I'll remember it. I took the time and followed through.
The best part of it all? After having no answer for his question about where it gets its name, I got to hear him explain that a dandelion looks like a lion's mane. How good is that?
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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