Play and Learn: Let’s All Go to the Beach

Okay, I *love* play and learns, but man, they really are time-intensive. I’ve been trying to do one about every three months. That’s enough that it feels like we’re never too far away from one, but also not so frequently that I feel like I’m drowning. Since this play and learn was a featured summer program, I thought a beach theme would be great! Here’s the stations I set up – and sorry in advance for the blurry pictures. I’m pretty much the worst program photographer ever!


sandy play doughmore sandy play dough

Sensory Play:

I made up a batch of regular old play dough (salt, water, flour, oil). I found some sand that had been in my children’s closet for goodness knows how long (I can only assume it was there for three or four children’s librarians) and mixed it in, too. I also found some super cool flip-flop stampers from Lakeshore hiding in the depths of the closet, so I threw those out, too! I went ahead and put the play dough directly on the floor (well, on a splat mat on a floor), instead of on a table like I usually do. I think it worked out really well – it definitely felt less crowded than usual at this eternally popular station.

quiet reading area and gel boards

Fine Motor, Quiet Reading, and Story telling:

Using this awesome tutorial from Little Read Wagon, our early literacy outreach/ECRR specialists/all around magicians with materials, I made some gel writer boards. If you’ve never made them before, do it RIGHT NOW! These boards are so cool, and they were really popular with the storytime moms. I know I told at least five or six how to make the boards themselves. Anyhow, I put out the gel writers and lots of beach books some beach towels I borrowed from a staff member, and BOOM quiet reading area with awesome writing boards that promote fine motor skills and print recognition!


paleta stand

Playing, Pretending, and Narrative Play:

There’s nothing that feels like summer more than a cool treat! With the help of a more coordinated co-worker, I cut a hole from a cardboard box and made an awesome paleta stand! I made foam popsicle for them to pass back and forth, and also made lots of felt shapes for making their own paletas on the felt board. The magnet board on the back of the felt board became the menu/sign for the stand, and I pulled out all our magnet letters for more play. Kids really do love using the magnet letters – even putting them up, taking them down, and sorting them based on color and size can occupy kiddos for a surprisingly long time!

parachute and balls

Gross Motor:

I put out our very colorful parachute, and threw of our different sized balls. This was a HUGE hit. The preschoolers and toddlers pretty much put their caregivers to work for the entire hour and a half we were in the room, waving the parachute up and down and bouncing the balls. We sang a few songs, but I think the loved the parachute just because it’s so freaking cool.

Make and Take:

I like to have a crafty craft at Play and Learns, because I’m crazy. I threw out our construction paper, chalk, and lots of circle stickers, and invited kids and their adults to create their own paletas. I try to incorporate different kids of art materials into crafts, and lots of kids haven’t ever used chalk. It’s super fun to scribble with and smear, plus don’t we all know that pinching stickers off is great fine motor skills!

Wrap Up and Thoughts:

This was a super fun play and learn! I’m always scared when I’m planning play and learns from scratch that everyone will be bored or kids will yell at me or something (okay, I know they’re not going to really do that, but it’s an irrational fear!). This program had just the right number of people for everything to seem busy, but not crowded. I got lots of appreciative comments, which makes all the hard work worth it! Play and learns are a really cool way to show some Every Child Ready to Read principles in action at your branch!



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