Working With Toy Library, Charter School Students Promote Playtime

By: Alan Pollock

Topics: Education

Cape Cod Lighthouse Charter School students partner with the new Cape Cod Toy Library.  COURTESY PHOTO

HARWICH PORT In a unique partnership with the fledgling Cape Cod Toy Library, Lighthouse Charter School students have had a practical lesson in the power of play.

As part of the library’s “Partners for Play” outreach program, the middle school students borrowed toys from the toy library and then visited the youngest students at the Partnership School in Orleans on two successive Fridays earlier this month. They spent time interacting with the youngsters between ages three and seven, using age-appropriate, enriching toys.

Cape Cod Toy Library President Deb Willsea said the middle schoolers first had an orientation session at the library’s prospective site at 432 Route 28 in Harwich Port, the former Woelfel and Sons Plumbing building. The nonprofit group plans to use the space for a lending library for toys, a play space for kids and their families, and a resource center for parents.

At the orientation, Lighthouse students had the chance to talk about play and child development. They discussed their childhood memories of play and the differences they see in young children’s play today, including the increased use and dependence on technology and tablets. The middle schoolers then had an opportunity to interact with toys and reflected on what toys their adolescent brains were drawn to.

While there's ample evidence from neuroscientists that time for creative play is important to the development of the brain, Willsea said there’s less and less play time today, thanks to technological distractions and to the highly-scheduled, sometimes stressful nature of family time. Play time has been pared down during the school day, with educators focused more on academics and test scores, she said. What suffers, play advocates argue, are social skills and creative thinking.

In their two visits to the Partnership School, the older kids spent one-on-one time with children in the three-year-old class, the four-year-old class, and a kindergarten and first grade class. Willsea said they gained an understanding of why play is essential to developing brains, what role it has in early literacy, and how it is connected with social-emotional skills.

As a follow up, the Lighthouse School students will be brainstorming ideas to increase community awareness of the importance of play and plan to host a toy drive for Cape Cod Toy Library.

The toy library group is actively seeking donations to help them purchase the land and building, and the owner has agreed to accept a $10,000 monthly deposit to keep the property off the market. Various small-scale fundraisers are underway, and Willsea said the group is actively recruiting larger donors.

The organization's total financial goal is $2.5 million, which covers the cost of starting up the group, purchasing the property, meeting capital needs and funding initial operations. The first phase, which aims to allow the toy library to open up in limited fashion this summer, will require around $1.7 million, Willsea said. When it comes to renovating and furnishing the space, the group plans to seek volunteer labor and in-kind donations of building supplies, furnishings, equipment, materials, toys, books and other needs. Though the library will eventually have professional staff, volunteers will be donating their time during the first year to keep administrative costs down, she said.

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