Written by Angela Hursh
Each spring at the Harrison Branch Library, magic happens overnight. Children drop off their stuffed animals at the Library so the critters can participate in the Stuffed Animal Sleepover, one of the most popular children’s events at this location.
The stuffed animals enjoy a storytime, games, books, and toys while they party all night long. In the morning children return to pick up their animals. They watch a slideshow of all their animals did during their nighttime stay. Every child takes home a photo of the whole group and their personal stuffed animal enjoying the fun.
This feat of imagination is run by Senior Children’s Librarian Caitlin Hoffer, Teen Librarian Damian Kristof, and the Teen Advisory Board members. The Teen Advisory Board is a group of local teens who work with Kristof to brainstorm programs for all ages. The teens design all the stuffed animal activities and take the pictures of the evening.
While all this seems like fun and games, this type of dramatic pretend play is important for kiddos’ imaginations and early literacy skills. The opportunity to start a conversation about what kids think their animals did overnight at the library or what they do at home afterward is an important educational opportunity.
Elizabeth Marks’ children Emma and Joshua have been a part of the Stuffed Animal Sleepover for three years. “The first year, I remember my daughter's ladybug stuffed animal being a part of a group of stuffed animals photographed in the bin for the drive in book return slot,” recalls Marks. “We talk about that photo every year we go to the sleepover. We wonder if they were sliding in through the slot all night. Did they help each other up and out? Which of those animals came up with that idea?”
Kristof, Hoffer, and the Teen Advisory Board stay at the branch until 10 p.m. on the evening of the sleepover. The next day, Hoffer spends hours putting the pictures into frames and making the slideshow. She says, “The second the kids see the pictures of the shenanigans, it all comes into focus. The wonder is shared between the children and their caregivers and it’s so cool to watch.”
Hoffer says she uses the sleepover as a way to practice early literacy skills with the kid. “We try to ask open-ended questions instead of ‘yes or no’ questions so children have opportunities to use their vocabulary and practice telling stories,” says Hoffer. “We try to repeat things back to children with richer, accurate vocabulary so they can make connections to words they may not know. The Stuffed Animal Sleepover is my favorite opportunity to see parents playing alongside their kids, jumping right into the deep end of pretend play.”