5 Why-Nots: Playing with Language-Rich Spaces

In the field of youth services, we often talk about creating language rich environments for young minds. These are spaces that reinforce and encourage recognition and meaning of words, create conversations or even invite guests to craft stories as well as strengthen language development and enrichment.  This has been a concept that has long appealed to me and I know that many library and youth serving staff work to  create spaces that encourage imaginations, word discovery and word play every day. The concept of  language rich environments has evolved quite a bit over the past few years. We encounter words in very different ways. We also interact with words differently (think about how the very word “text” has taken on new meanings and conjures new images and actions). 

Language/Word-rich environments are not only beneficial for young minds. All ages can benefit from a space that plays with words, directs imaginations with language and encourages conversation. Here are 5 Why-Nots for having fun with words in your space. Why not try them? …

1. Why not sprinkle your space with questions? Just like a good speech, a good space can earnestly stir up questions in visitors’ minds. “Why did they paint that wall tomato red?” “Why are these particular books and dvds on display?” Why not simply write the questions you think may be going on in the minds of customers and post them? Questions will get answers–or at least conjectures. Conjectures can lead to conversations.

2. Why not use a portion of your storytime to invite children and their adults to simply talk with one another? Give them a start up question to ask the person next to them. How about “What is the most unusual word you can think of?”

3. Why not take a note from Pee Wee’s Playhouse (yes, it’s OK to admit to loving PWP just a little) and do a “Word of the Day?”  Send kids and adults looking for the word hidden throughout your library or facility, on titles and in the articles of magazines. (Screaming at the top of your lungs when the word is said aloud, is optional, of course).

4. Why not overhaul your signage or at least one type of signage to send a really clear message that “we want you to be a part of this space?” Take a look at Leah White’s article on signage for some inspiration.

5. Why not have an area of your library or department where talking is promoted. Even if it is for limited times only. The “talking” could be in the form of selections from talking books, on-the-spot poetry or quote readings, or timed ramblings on a given topic. Think of it as a creative take on London’s Speakers’ Corner.

Each day we have opportunities to interact with our customers in deeper ways. What we want to get at is creating spaces–whether real or digital–that are drenched with the human element. Inviting involvement through play with words and conversation starters is one way to turn the human element up. Why not?

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