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ROCHESTER, NY—Can libraries save free play? In the past decades, academic pressures have increased, parent anxieties and surveillance have grown, and legal constraints on free-roaming children have tightened, all leading to a well-documented decline in free play opportunities for today’s youth. As children have become more homebound and opportunities for play with friends outside of school have plummeted, public libraries have come to hold an increasingly important role as emerging centers for play, according to an article by Peter Gray, Autumn E. Solomon, and Leah Tatgenhorst in the latest issue of the peer-reviewed American Journal of Play.
With easier access to information, books, and other materials via the Internet and other sources, the traditional function of libraries has changed. Libraries have therefore expanded their role to help meet the other needs of their communities and become hubs for community gatherings—including as places for children to play. According to a survey of 52 libraries conducted by the authors, libraries now often boast play areas with toys, costumes, role-playing settings, and even physical activities, such as climbing walls. They may also include maker spaces, video or robotic labs, art studios, and teen hang-out areas.
The authors write, “Our goal in this research was to assess the potential for public libraries to help fill a recent gap in children’s educational opportunities in the United States, that gap being a dearth of places where children can play freely, socially, and safely without adult intervention.” While they conclude that libraries have taken great efforts to become centers of play and help address some of these larger issues, there’s still room to grow—particularly in offerings for older children and teens—and that the “primary barriers to play opportunities appears to be space, not money, staffing, or will.”
The authors commend libraries for evolving to help meet the needs of kids but implore all involved with libraries—government, associations, library systems—to go further to help in the fight to save free play.
The full article and complete issue of the American Journal of Play can be read freely online. Additional interviews and articles include:
“Educating and Inspiring Through Toys and Play: An Interview with Terri-Nichelle Bradley.” In this wide-ranging interview, Terri-Nichelle Bradley, Principal of Play at Brown Toy Box, explores the long-standing deficit in toys that reflect Black culture, purposeful play, the importance of curiosity, diversity in STEAM fields, Black innovators, and more.
“Exploring the Links between Parent-Child Playground Behavior and HEXACO Personality Traits” by Prarthana Franklin-Luther and Anthony A. Volk. The authors examine 100 parent-child pairings in a playground setting to determine how they influence each other’s behavior. Through their analysis, they reveal two types of parents (engaged versus unengaged) and children (introverted and cautious vs autonomous and energetic) and explore how the different personality types affect each other.
About the American Journal of Play
The American Journal of Play is a peer-reviewed, interdisciplinary publication that serves as a forum for discussing the history, science, and culture of play. Published three times each year by The Strong museum in Rochester, New York, the Journal includes articles, interviews, and book reviews written for a broad readership that includes educators, psychologists, play therapists, sociologists, anthropologists, folklorists, historians, museum professionals, toy and game designers, policy makers, and others who consider play for a variety of reasons and from various perspectives.