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'Smart Play Spots' coming to Woodbury library

Woodbury's R.H. Stafford Library will soon be equipped with a mini "purposeful play" feature in a literacy-driven partnership between Washington County and the Minnesota Children's Museum.

"Smart Play Spots" will be installed at the library to give children interactive opportunities to practice the five basic building blocks of literacy: singing, talking, reading, writing and playing.

Engaging youngsters in an environment that will mimic Washington County parks and outdoor activities will also foster additional interactive learning, librarian Dawn Labrosse said.

"All these different elements will allow them to play," she said.

The Minnesota Children's Museum is using arts and cultural heritage dollars from the Legacy Amendment to install 18 purposeful play spots across libraries in the Twin Cities.

Each feature requires a $20,000 local match, which Washington County contributed out of county library reserves that are in excess of $2 million.

The Children's Museum has installed 13 Smart Play Spots so far, with the R.H. Stafford Library being the first in Washington County.

"It's really about giving children access to hands-on practices in any setting whether it's a museum, library or at home," said Kylee Breems, Children's Museum spokeswoman. "These hands-on learning experiences really set the stage for success in school and in life."

The R.H. Stafford Library Smart Play Spots will have a nature theme, equipped with a tree trunk hideaway, interactive animals, a farmer's market where children can pretend to buy vegetables and a boat where kids can pretend to go fishing.

Scheduled for a September installation, the local Smart Play was uniquely designed to allow for those five basic building blocks of literacy, Labrosse said, with opportunities for adults to interact with their children

Minnesota Children's Museum exhibit developer Michelle Blodgett said the simple everyday ways parents and adults interact with children will be highlighted in the Smart Play Spots, including talking about the benefits of reading, singing, greeting and writing.

"It helps encourage adults to interact with children with early literacy in mind," she said.

Adults will be guided through the five building blocks through the design of Smart Play with words they can point out to their children and objects highlighted in the environment, focusing on exposure to new words children will then be self-motivated to use later on.

"The more words children learn before starting school, the more successful they will be," she said. "And play is a great way to do that. It's one of the best ways to interact with children."

Washington County District 5 Commissioner Lisa Weik, who represents Woodbury on the board, said data consistently shows the public values early childhood education in a variety of ways.

"So I think this is a great addition," she said.

County officials said they will use the partnership opportunity as a starting point to possibly design additional Smart Play Spots in other neighboring county libraries.

Riham Feshir
Riham Feshir is a reporter and photographer for the Woodbury Bulletin. Her coverage includes Woodbury City Hall, Washington County Board of Commissioners and business news.  Follow Riham on Twitter @RihamFeshir for the latest updates.