So much more than storytime


eanna Peabody, 5, bounced around the children’s play area at the Mt. Lebanon Public Library with a smile on her face, as her curly blonde locks sprung through the air.

After completing five puzzles, reading three books, finding the hidden unicorns and seals in the I Spy fish tank and cutting vegetables and cleaning dishes in the play kitchen, she met Jane Shirey, 4, on the play mat.

“Hi, would you want to be my friend?” Leanna, Sunset Hills, asked as she skipped across the play space.

“Sure!” Jane, McCully Street, quickly responded. “What’s your name?”

“She loves the library,” said Tracy Certo, Leanna’s aunt who took her for an afternoon adventure. “It’s a great place for an outing. You could spend hours here and it’s very educational.”

Many people, including Certo and Leanna, do just that. While the children’s library space is often known for its lively programs—including story time, mini yoga and Tail Waggin’ Tutors—even when you’re not in the mood for a program you can still find something to occupy your youngster and yourself for hours.

“People want to have a destination that they can go to with their kids and spend time,” said Connie Mathews, senior children’s librarian. “I know from being a parent that when I’m home, I’m still thinking about the dishes and making phone calls and doctors’ appointments. This is a place where you can go that’s outside your home and connect with other people.”

“It’s really a community here,” said Elizabeth Shirey, Jane’s mom. “It just feels like such a safe and welcoming place.”

With stations spread throughout the children’s library, there really is something for every child, with stacks of books nearby for parents to browse, while still keeping an eye on their kiddos.

If you can’t find what you’re looking for, or want some ideas for things to do in the vibrant, colorful space, there’s always a children’s librarian behind the desk waiting to help.

“When a kid comes up and asks us a question, it makes our day because they’re learning how to ask questions,” said Elizabeth Schwertfuehrer, senior children’s librarian.

To give you a head start, we asked the children’s librarians to take us on a tour of the space and share all the fun things you can do with your kiddos that don’t require a pre-scheduled program. It’s the perfect way to spend a chilly day indoors and let your young one explore, and, equally as important, they’re learning something in the process.

“Come on in, play in the library, we have things for you to do,” Schwertfuehrer said.


a red haired child playing with a stem kitSTEM kits

Tucked behind the front desk are boxes meant to keep your kids entertained and engaged, while learning all about science, technology, engineering and math.

The library updates the STEM kits—which must remain in the library and cannot be checked out—each month. Past boxes have included an anatomy kit filled with a cute little frog that opened up with all of his body parts inside for youngsters to explore; a stackable human body for kids to explore the muscular system; and a book about the body.

Another month, the box focused on animal tracks, including books, a match the animal track card and poster game, memory cards, poop bingo and an activity where kids press a woodland footprint into Play-Doh to create animal tracks.

This month’s kit was still being dreamed up as of press time, so stop in the library to find out what the kids have created. In the photo, Niko learns some basic principles with a STEM kit.

a brown haired child writing with crayons on a piece of paperWriting center

Holding the pencil appropriately is a tough skill to crack for youngsters.

Librarians met with members of the Mt. Lebanon School District’s kindergarten readiness group to gather ways they can help kiddos get ready for the start of school.

“One of the things we found is that the kids don’t know how to hold a pencil correctly, so there’s a lot of (occupational therapy) going on in the schools,” Schwertfuehrer said.

The district’s kindergarten teachers provided library staff with a poster that is hung on the wall above a tall wooden table teaching kids how to hold a pencil correctly.

“This is where they practice,” Schwertfuehrer said. “They can freeform, practice holding crayons in their hand.”

In the interest of helping the environment, the library uses recycled paper and—to eliminate a potential mess—washable crayons. Kids of all ages use the space.

“Sometimes kids will draw us a picture and we’ll hang it up on the cabinets,” Schwertfuehrer said. In the photo, Charlie works on his writing skills.

a blonde haired child playing with a puzzlePlay-to-learn area

In the back of the library is a stack of plastic sleeves composed of a variety of wooden puzzles and interactive pieces. Here, kids can learn basic time telling by putting together the shape clock puzzle or make their way through a traffic jam while completing a 24-piece floor puzzle.

The space includes lacing cards that teach kids how to tie their shoes and an array of Montessori wooden puzzles. All of these items must stay in the library.

“They can learn counting skills, lace and unlace shoes, sewing skills—and also a lot of fine motor skills,” Mathews said. In the photo, Emilia works
a puzzle.

a blonde haired child looking at things under a microscopeMicroscope and more!

Once you grab the STEM kit from behind the front desk (with the help of a librarian, of course), you can take it back to the STEM desk. There you will also find brain quests for kids in kindergarten through sixth grade.

A museum-grade microscope that lives in the library allows kids to explore a variety of specimens up close. The specimens are changed out periodically. Recently, there was a collection of small wooden pencils, crayons, dead bugs, pasta and feathers.

“They can manipulate to their hearts’ content,” Schwertfuehrer said. “Sometimes kids will bring things in from the courtyard or bring in their own things to check out.” In the photo, Benjamin discovers a hidden world with the library’s museum-grade microscope.

Five young teenagers playing uno cards on a table.Large game area

Looking for some family fun? The children’s library has more than 100 board games that you can either play with in the large open space in the rear of the library or check out and take home.

They’ve got everything from popular games like Ticket to Ride Junior to Stack the Cats to storytime cards and no-stress chess.

“We have a very loyal following for our games,” Schwertfuehrer said.

If your kids are a little older, there are games for ages 10 and up on the adult side of the library to browse and borrow. In the photo, the teen section has lots of games. Playing Uno, from left: Bee, Iris, Millie, Nick and Kai.

Mindful games shine kit sprawled out on a table.SHINE kits

Want to focus on meditation or self-regulation with your child? The children’s library’s SHINE kits, funded by Matt’s Maker Space, offer resources and tools to work through issues with your kid. Topics include sensory, self-regulation, feelings, anxiety and meditation.

Each kit includes a minimum of three books for you to read with your child, one adult book to help you process and develop ways to help your child and appropriate toys that go along with the theme.

For example: The sensory kit includes a rain stick and a box filled with seven textures—from a red shaggy carpet to green grass to brown velvet—to help your child improve their senses, while the self-regulation kit has flashcards about feelings and how to deal with them–like “I feel angry. I can walk away and count to 10 or ask for help.”

These kits can be checked out for three weeks but cannot be renewed.

paper directions to solve the scavenger hunt puzzleScavenger hunt

This isn’t an everyday thing, but if you time it right, you might be able to participate in this exciting library adventure.

Periodically, the staff organizes scavenger hunts around the children’s library. They’ve included themes such as Pokemon or bird bingo.

“They’ve been hugely popular. It’s a huge draw. It’s just fun and sometimes the kids work collaboratively,” Mathews said. “The parents even love it!”

a blonde haired child playing with blocks in the play spacePlay space

The Mt. Lebanon Public Library is a Family Place Library, part of which requires them to have an area dedicated for kids to learn through play.

“They’re learning to negotiate, sharing toys,” Schwertfuehrer said.

The library staff rotates through various themes. Sometimes you’ll find trains and car sets, duplo Lego bricks, doll houses with diverse families or a jumbo safari.

Right nearby is a parent/teacher book section specifically geared to help navigate through raising a child.

“Our parent/teacher area about how to help kids, work with kids, train kids, is right here intentionally so that way a parent never has to leave their child to get resources that might help them,” Schwertfuehrer said.

Books range from everything from potty training to tough topics you might be dealing with, sleep training, weaning, feeding, eating disorders and more. In the photo, Leanna in the library’s dedicated play space. 

a blond haired child and their mother pointing to stuffed animals in a small aquariumI Spy

The large fish tank in the front of the library is a fun place for little ones to count and search. Librarians swap out the items inside the tank seasonally and kiddos are encouraged to find different items inside. There’s no prize for this game, just pure fun.

“Oh my gosh, there’s nine dogs,” Marlene Claycomb, Washington Road, said to her daughter, Margot, 3. “There’s one,” Margot quickly responded.

Kids often can be found standing on the tiny ladder in front of the tank trying to find the hidden objects. Themes over the last year have ranged from Valentine’s Day hearts to a large pile of stuffies.

“It’s amazing to me. Kids are riveted by this thing,” Matthews said. “They’re really excited when it changes!”  In the photo, Marlene and daughter Margot try to find all the hidden items in the I Spy fish tank.

several children wearing headsets looking at computer screens.Computers

If you’re looking for a little technology to incorporate in your day at the children’s library, there’s a row of computers that your youngster can use. The Mt. Lebanon Public Library has subscriptions to World Book and BookFlix, along with other databases that help kids learn. In the photo, Renner browses online.

Photography by Elizabeth Hruby McCabe and Tracy Certo