Toy Libraries Are Trending & Support Early Childhood Learning

Toy Libraries Are Trending & Support Early Childhood Learning

Toy libraries have been around for a long time, but thanks to an August 2018 clinical report published by the American Academy of Pediatrics, their popularity is picking up speed, according to Judith Iacuzzi, executive director of the US Toy Library Association

What exactly is a toy library? 

“Toy libraries, in their simplest form, offer the ability for a child or a family to check out a toy, play with it, bring it back, and get another toy,” Iacuzzi explained. 

Toy libraries operate in basically the same way public libraries do. Members of the toy library walk in, select a toy to check out, and are allowed to take that toy home and play with it in the same way that traditional library users check out and read a book. The service is free, and the only expectations are that the toys are returned on time and in good condition. 

Toy libraries exist internationally, and the oldest toy library in the United States is the Los Angeles County Toy Loan Program, which has operated in California since 1935. 

And while toy libraries have been around for nearly a century, Iacuzzi cites a new surge of interest in the concept, thanks to the American Academy of Pediatrics report that delved into the importance of play on a child’s development. The report concludes that “the most powerful way children learn isn’t only in classrooms or libraries but on playgrounds and in playrooms.”

“In its most simple, obvious form, play … sparks imagination, it builds socialization, it gives self-knowledge, and it provides a sense of freedom,” Iacuzzi said about the importance of allowing children open-ended play time

Toy libraries take many forms. Some operate out of an independent building, but according to Iacuzzi, most U.S. toy libraries are housed inside another facility such as a public library, a preschool or a daycare. There are even mobile toy libraries, including some that circulate to prisons so that children of incarcerated parents may still have play-filled interactions with their family members. 

Some toy libraries have reward systems for families that take good care of checked-out toys and bring them back on time. 

The benefits of toy libraries are many. First, given the importance of play as noted in the clinical report above, they give high-quality toy access to families that might not be able to afford toys of their own. 

“In more depressed areas of this country, it often has an additional component of teaching parents or caregivers about play and the value of play,” Iacuzzi said. 

Additionally, a number of toy libraries work with children with disabilities or special needs. For example, a child who cannot easily use their arms or fingers needs access to toys that respond to a different touch, such as the touch of an elbow or chin. 

“Toy libraries can provide educational components with therapists who work with the families, play with the families, offer toys that are adapted for those families,” she said. “There are adaptations that need to be made to the toy so the child can have some fun and some freedom. 

Toy libraries are also notably environmentally friendly. First, Iacuzzi explained, they adhere to a “good and green” cleaning process for the toys. 

“Recycling is part of it, too, the value of using a toy and taking care of it, giving it back, cleaning it up, letting somebody else use it rather than just throwing it in the dump,” she said. 

Finally, toy libraries combat the excessive screen time many of today’s children are exposed to. Iacuzzi said toy libraries aren’t necessarily fighting screens but offering alternatives.

“Simple toys that we’ve always played with are probably the most long-lasting and valuable to the child,” Iacuzzi explained, noting that toys like blocks that allow for open-ended play are still popular. 

To find a toy library near you, to start your own toy library, or to get involved with the US Toy Library Association, visit their website. 

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I am an unrepentant lover of words - and lucky me, I spend all day, every day immersed in them. When I'm not teaching, I'm reading. Or writing. Or teaching eager (and sometimes not-so-eager) adolescents about the power of the written word. I live on the scenic Oregon Coast with my dog, two cats, and five-year-old son.

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