Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Power of Play & How It Fits Into the Library World

When children are little their lives are filled with fun things to do, like watching favorite cartoon characters, singing with music or without (and not caring either way), and playing. To watch a child at play is an enjoyable activity because it seems so innocent and devoid of any seriousness. Next time you are watching children play, whether in group story time or spontaneous get together in the children's room, look carefully. There is much more going on besides having fun. Children are busy learning. This is precisely why children are so "tired" after playing. They have used every ounce of energy in them from cerebral, to physical to emotional. It's exhausting to just think about it,let alone watching the young ones! This is not stating anything new, children psychologists have known this for years. However, the approach that the library should have when it comes to games children play, is one that invites children to explore all the ways in which to learn and grow. Games definitely belong in the library.

For directors and youth services heads who believe that the only reason to have games in the library is to educate the young patrons, they will be happy to know that ALL games are educational for children. They may not openly come out and state "play this game for hours of educational fun" but without a doubt many of the "entertainment" games are sneaky at teaching something when the kids aren't noticing. For example, the card game UNO reinforces colors or the board game Clue encourages deductive reasoning. The list can go on to include other games such as RISK, Monopoly, Operations and so forth.

Games also teach winning and losing. It is important for children of all ages to distinguish this fact and accept it gracefully. Sure there are books that can teach the "moral" value of winning and losing with grace but games bring it to a "reality" that children experience for themselves. It seems that parents are so afraid of their little Johnny feeling bad when he loses that not keeping "track" of points seem to be the best option. What is so fun about losing a game is that the participant can start to think of the next time they play and what strategy they would use. Librarians should remind parents that there is a huge book industry out there that gives advice on strategies to win for just about any game. when a child loses, encourage them to find new strategies from others or maybe even come up with their own. Losing is not a bad thing, if dealt with in the proper way.

Reading skills are also developed in playing games. On a ordinary family game night for the family at the library, it is not surprising to see parent and child reading the directions of a game they have never tried before. This is one of the more fun ways to strengthen reading comprehension in children. Together, parent and child are learning the rules and agreeing to abide by them in order to ensure a fair game. Another games that help enhance reading skills are trivia games such as Trivial Pursuit. Reading questions out loud can sometimes be intimidating, but when surrounded by friends who are there not to judge but to have fun, the stress of saying everything perfectly is lifted. Often times, this helps a child become confident in their reading abilities. What better place to improve reading skills then in the library?

In the past decade or so, gaming in the library has meant video games. When this concept came about there were numerous naysayers who denounced games in the library on the basis that it was not educational, no one would want to play games in the library and it was a waste of taxpayers money. Years latter, ALA has initiated a Game Day at the library and website ( to help libraries incorporate all types of games for all ages. If it makes library directors feel better, remind them that play time is serious business and libraries should not pass up getting involved in such a worthwhile enterprise. On the other hand, maybe they would like to get into the game too. Invite them to play a round or two of Trivial Pursuits!
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