Upper Arlington Public Library opens new area for play-based learning

Nate Ellis
ThisWeek group
Betty Zhang and son Shaun Diao, 3, play June 1 in the new early-learning play area at the Upper Arlington Library main branch, 2800 Tremont Road.

The Upper Arlington Public Library unveiled a new early-learning play area June 1 that officials hope will provide additional connections for families.  

Library officials and project donors were on hand for a ribbon-cutting at the library’s main branch, 2800 Tremont Road.  

The $90,000 project was funded by a $20,000 contribution from lead sponsor, the Upper Arlington Community Foundation. 

Mackenzie Reynolds, 6, enjoys the new early-learning play area.

Financial support also came from The Friends of the Upper Arlington Public Library, the Upper Arlington Rotary Club, the Tri-Village Rotary Club and other private donors.  

That 900-square-foot play space for children in the Youth Department at the main branch includes features such as a storybook cottage, puppet birdhouse, pretend garden, photo booth and stationary, wooden cars.  

"Research shows that play-based learning benefits the whole child. It is generally self-chosen, unstructured, process-oriented and enjoyable with no specific end goal," library Director Beth Hatch said. "It enhances early-learning skills like socialization, self-regulation, creativity, problem-solving and fine and gross motor skills." 

Austin Reynolds, 3, plays in the early-learning play area on June 1 at the main branch.

Hatch said the library has planned to add an early-learning play area at the main branch since 2018.  

Fundraising for the project was launched in 2019, but construction was delayed due to the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.  

"The purpose of the space is to provide families and caregivers with young children an eye-catching, interactive, play-based learning area to play, read and share together," Hatch said. 

The morning following the ribbon-cutting, roughly 20 children played in the space watched by parents and grandparents. 

Gideon Taylor, 7, of Upper Arlington, waited his turn to play in the kitchen and on the wooden cars. Meanwhile, his 5-year-old sister, Naomi, encouraged him to "read some books," in the nature reading haven.  

"It's our first time here," said Delana Taylor, their mother. "So we're still checking it out.  

"I like how it's open. There's lots of learning things for the kids, but it's also playful. The new furniture is nice." 

Taylor said she began bringing her children to the library when they were infants. She said the new play area is "another thing to get them to want to be excited about" visiting the library.   

Likewise, Jamie Haren of Upper Arlington watched as her son, Jake, 4, toured the kitchen and climbed in and out of the cars.  

"I found out about it on Instagram, on the UA Public Library's page," Haren said. "We wanted to come check it out and, obviously, it's a hit. They really seem to like the playhouse with the kitchen inside. They've been playing with this for about an hour."  

Haren said she visits the library with her son once or twice a week.  

While they typically come to check out books, she said the play area adds another dimension of fun to the trips, particularly after access to library branches was limited during the pandemic.  

"It's nice that they play and we can stay a little bit longer," Haren said. "It's just another outlet, especially on rainy days." 

Tracy Harbold, Upper Arlington Community Foundation executive director, said creating more connections among the community and the library and the learning resources provide was a primary reason her organization decided to support the project.   

"Libraries are very important and ours is truly one of the crown jewels of our community," Harbold said. "Play-based learning helps children develop skills that will last a lifetime. 

"Supporting this effort fits with our mission to enhance the lives of the people that live here." 

nellis@thisweeknews.com 

@ThisWeekNate