When you think of a library, you typically picture people quietly reading and librarians shushing whenever their volume reaches a disruptive level. But that’s not the scene at Family PlayShop at the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh East Liberty Branch. They welcome talkers! In fact, they encourage it.

The children’s area is colorful, bright and noisy, filled with neighborhood kids doing everything from reading aloud to actively exploring toys scattered through the room. The PlayShop, an interactive play area for young readers, is a harmonious mix of learning and fun. Every station peaked my interest, even as an adult. I was curious as to how Lena, my vivacious and spunky toddler, would react.

She jumped right into the activities, and when she couldn’t figure something out, either I or the librarian redirected her. The physical trial and error was more than a learning experience. It was a life lesson.


Lena’s favorite activity was the life-size lite-brite. The fluorescent pops of red, orange, blue and green inspired her to create letters and numbers. As she designed an “M” for Marlena, a small dose of nostalgia kicked in. I vividly remembered getting a Lite Brite from a godmother for Christmas in 1996. It did not take long for me to join in. I let her take the lead, moving the jumbo pegs where she directed me to place them. All the while, I gave her a pop quiz about the colors.


The beauty of the Family PlayShop lies in between the opportunities and the conversations. We had access to almost a dozen toys that we do not have at home. The Family PlayShop is an opportunity to have a designated space for Lena to be playful and adventurous. More importantly, Lena and I were in a healthy environment that generated a conversation we would not normally have at home. From the stories about my childhood lite bright to Lena expressing her love for the sensory play mat, we talked for almost an hour about this awesome place we were visiting.


After about an hour of free play, Lena and I wound down with one of her favorite books, Rain! by Linda Ashman. Lena is currently learning how to identify sight words, so it was a joy to see her following along and trying to sound out and recognize some words. I was just as excited to see that after all that playing and having fun she still wanted to do what the library calls her to do: read.


Let’s be honest. Creating an enjoyable experience for any toddler can be costly. The museum, amusement parks, movies, and other local attractions are expensive. From parking to admission to food, a parent can easily spend $100 in one afternoon. The library is free. Reading is free. The Family PlayShop is free. That’s what I appreciated the most about this stress-free environment.

So check out Family PlayShop! Click here for the schedule and sites–it happens at lots of locations! We checked out the East Liberty program. If you go, don’t be afraid to ask questions. The librarians are here to help. Also, learn as your child learns. I know I did. Lastly, it’s okay to let your little one loose in the library. The library staff will nurture their inquisitive spirit and channel their extra energy for good.