When I came into my position a year ago, there was an established Early Literacy Area. It was called the "Play Learn Read" area. However, it was also called the "Tot Spot" and there was signage with these names used interchangeably.
The space was set up well, but everything looked a little beat up. There were laminated shoes on the ground that were peeling and cracked, a puppet theater who had seen better days, and a magnet story with about 40 pieces (The Very Hungry Caterpillar).
I took a few months to get acquainted to both the space and the population who used it before I started making changes. The Youth Services team also discussed what could be changed or improved in the area during this time. We realized that it was primarily the same families coming into the library each week/month and using the area. While the kids enjoyed the space, parents were very bored of doing the same activity each visit.
With all of the above in mind, we decided to make some CHANGES! There were high quality items in the area, but they needed to be changed at a higher frequency and some more thought needed to be put into the activities that were being displayed. I explained my reasons for updating the area to our team and made sure I addressed the issues other staff members had mentioned to me. The staff was ready for a change and were very supportive during our transition period!
My first change was making the magnet board into a flannel board. I simply took a piece of flannel and covered it using Velcro. It didn't look the greatest, but it got the job done. Eventually, my boss took pity on me and bought an actual flannel board to attach to the wall once she saw how successful it was.
Next, we decided to make sure there was a parent messages included with every activity. I put them next to the flannel board, as well as other activities throughout the room. By including the early literacy tips, parents can immediately understand the affect playing can have on their child.
We decided to put a fun game on one of the pillar. I wanted this to be a bright item that captured their attention before they would leave the space.
We also took out the sad puppet theater patrons had been playing with for 6+ months and introduced a new activity.
We are still working on a name for our area. Our original "Play Learn Read" is a bit of a mouthful and didn't catch on with the public or staff. The second try of "Tot Spot" was confusing to all, since our local grocery store provides a child watch service called this. Currently we're trying "Play & Learn" and we'll see if we still like it in a few months.
The most important decision we made was to keep the space updated and fresh. The flannel story and wall game get changed out monthly. The table activity usually stays out for 2-3 months. This has made the area appealing to both children and their parents. Best of all, everything is cheap! I've made every activity for the center, and usually with supplies I find lying around the library.
Starting a venture like an Early Literacy Center can be so rewarding! However, you have to think about sustainability when the decisions are being made. Will you reasonably be able to keep the space is good condition? Do you plan on updating it weekly? Monthly? Quarterly? Set deadlines for yourself on how long you want activities to be out and keep them. You will be setting yourself up for success!