SOLEDAD — The end of Winter Break at area schools has meant an increase in children going to the Soledad Library, and more attendance for the branch’s extra offerings.
In addition to books and programs for adults and teens, the library has been hosting a number of children’s programs since last summer. One of the offerings for youth is the Sensational Sensory Playtime on both Thursdays and Saturdays.
“It’s supposed to spark creativity and help them build motor skills,” said Librarian Denise Campos. “Because they’re squeezing, building strength, using tweezers to try to pinch an individual water bead. They’re developing different concepts like magnetics with the fishing game.”
She noted the games and activities develop hand-eye coordination and hopefully spark the imaginations of children.
Beyond water and magnets are explorations of other types of sensations.
“Some of us take for granted the fact that we grew up close to beautiful beaches,” Campos said. “But, when you think about it, some of our customers have never been to a beach. Their experience with sand is new for them. And here they get to not only imagine what it is like, but they get to feel it.”
In addition to the sand table, which featured magnetic sand to press into shapes, there are other non-local sensations.
“Some people have never experienced snow, so we can create a snow dome that gives them a visual as well as a tactile understanding of what it might be like to be in that environment,” Campos explained.
While some activities stay the same for consistency, others change to give different offerings.
“This week you might see Play Dough, next week you might see a big board that has different textures,” she said. “You still get that element of touch, but it’s a different aspect.”
Because of the fun of getting to play with different sensations, Campos said, “This is one of those programs that was immediately popular because people get to do things they don’t normally get to do in a library.”
She added that people think of librarians shushing any noise, but the programs use interactivity to instill learning.
“We’re trying to connect real world experiences and support them with literacy,” she said.
The sensory time isn’t merely toys, as the library uses connected story time to link senses, reading and learning.
“We can tell a story that is supported by different activities,” Campos said.
The funding for the new library programs came as a result of earlier summer activities at the library. The branch received a grant to buy items for the programs “as a result of participating and serving lunch four days a week as part of our summer reading programs,” Campos explained.
“We received some donations from the inmate leisure groups at the Correctional Training Facility,” she added. “Because many of the people that we serve in the community have a shared interest. They’re the children, the spouses, the parents of the inmates. So they were really generous and raised money for us to be able to spend on supplies.”
Donations and grant money have allowed the programs to exist, which will allow them to continue indefinitely, Campos noted.
“Right now I don’t see an end to this. I only see it growing,” she said.
In addition to the sensory playtime, the library also hosts a video game time on Saturdays.
“We see a regular group of youngsters who join us and stay for the whole two hours,” Campos said. “In the computer lab, we’ve set the projector up so we project a large image across the wall.”
Since the gaming takes place in the computer room, players who are waiting their turn to play video games on the large projection can play on the computers or their own devices.
“We have a Wii system and games purchased through grants,” Campos said.
When asked about the games played, she said, “It just depends on what the people in attendance want to do. If they want to dance, we’ll have dance games. If they want to play Super Mario Bros., which they usually do, that’s what we’ll do. If it’s golf or tennis, we’ll do that, too.”
Campos explained, “We try to focus on more of a G or PG rating. We stay away from using guns or simulating shooting, violence and that sort of thing. It’s more strategy and things like driving.”
The library also has board games and word games, such as Monopoly, chess and checkers.
“At this particular branch, they’re not quite as popular as video games, but we do make them available,” Campos said.
The branch also has a Wednesday arts program called Pour Out Your Art. Activities can range from painting to sculpting.
“We had 19 people painting yesterday,” Campos said. “We’re able to buy supplies because of the grant money.”
DVDs are also available to check out free of charge, as well as the use of public computers.
“The library is a place for everybody no matter what their age,” Campos said. “If you don’t have a computer, or high speed Internet, or Internet at all, you can use the computers at no charge other than printing for a nominal fee. It doesn’t matter who you are, what your background is, financially or culturally. This is the place where hopefully everybody feels welcome and has equitable and equal access to all these services.”
Bilingual English-Spanish pajama story time is held on Wednesdays at 5:30 p.m. Game Time is on Saturdays from 2 to 4 p.m. Sensational Sensory Playtime takes place Thursdays, 3 to 5 p.m., and Saturdays, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Pour Out Your Art is held on Wednesdays from 2:30 to 4:30 p.m. The library provides fliers about its programs at the front counter.