I had an experience today…a not very good one.
We were out at a library that we have never been to before in the next county over, where I used to live before we bought a house. I had planned to meet a colleague there because they have a designed “children’s play space”. I figured it would be a great opportunity for my 4 yo son to make some new friends and discover new things while we had a quick meeting.
We got there early and got our bearings. When my colleague arrived, I set us up in a quiet corner where I could still more or less see my child but we wouldn’t be in anybody’s way. I noticed that he was pretending something vivid. and was monitoring the situation to make sure he wasn’t bothering anybody, doing anything dangerous or damaging anything. His play included a jump and then running a very short distance, stopping, doing something and then running back the short distance to where he had started. There were a few other parents with young babies who were letting their children roam free. In fact at one point, my son came over to complain that a baby had knocked over his creation. Clearly, that baby’s caregiver wasn’t around to tell him not to do that but, you know what, he’s a baby so…. I explained that babies do that sometimes because they don’t know any better. He moved on and I thought everything was going just fine until….
A woman professionally dressed approached me and said “Excuse me, are you THE PARENT?”
“Are you THE PARENT? Are you with him?” pointing to my child who had accompanied her.
“Am I the… I’m his mother.”
“Well, I told him twice to stop running and he was jumping off of the furniture.”
It was at this moment that I realized the woman was a librarian and that she expected me to chastise my child for his behavior. I looked into my son’s eyes that were open as wide as they could be and began filling with tears. I honestly don’t know what happened to the woman because I was now in the middle of a meltdown. He wanted to go home. He didn’t want to be where he wasn’t wanted. He didn’t want to try to play in a play space where he wasn’t allowed to….well…play. I still needed to finish my quick meeting so I did my best to comfort him. I explained that while he hadn’t actually done anything wrong, he probably should have changed the way he was playing the first time she asked him to or at least have come to tell me what had happened.
We moved to the other side of the children’s floor. Yes, that’s right. The ENTIRE FLOOR of this library is dedicated to children. He set himself up playing games on one of the computers that were set up with age appropriate activities and I did my best to recover and finish my meeting.
Here’s what I don’t get: (aside from the haughty, passive-aggressive way I was approached)
Why do libraries build these awesome play spaces, complete with puppets, things to build with, open areas, interactive toys and things to manipulate if they aren’t going to let the children PLAY?
Honestly, I think they think that they want to create a space that is warm and inviting so young children will come to the library early in the life, get comfortable, learn to love books and reading and thereby give library spaces and librarians some longevity, some reason for being, some job security. They don’t seem to understand that you can’t invite a young child into a space that sparks their imagination and then tell them that they have to sit quietly. It’s a PLAY SPACE, not a reading room, which they also have by the way. This particular library as I mentioned has a whole floor dedicated to children, including the aforementioned play space, a reading room, multiple reading areas, computers for their use, stacks of age appropriate books, and even a program where you can check out an iPad mini loaded with games and activities in a certain STEAM related theme! Sounds awesome, right?
It would be if they could just understand that children need to be allowed to express themselves in an age-appropriate way. They would not be disturbing any adults who were trying to study or work because they are all on a different FLOOR. In fact, the only people who could have been disturbed were us, my colleague and I, because we were there to work.
I’m really baffled and annoyed by the fact that there are still so many people who view this world as being “for adults” leaving children to have to hide, or at least be seen but not heard. I thought we were past that, but I guess not. Seriously, just let the children be children.
Let the children play!