A few years ago a co-worker and I wrote a grant for Tot Spot, an early literacy program focused on parent and child play. We were very excited to receive the grant money and used it to buy books, toys, games, flannel boards and puppets centered around ten different themes. Tot Spot started out as a once a month, "open-house" style program on Saturday. We supplied parents with a checklist for each themed station and supplied other parent resources (books and handouts) on early literacy. At first, Tot Spot was hugely popular and we had many patrons coming to play with their little ones.
After about six months, the numbers dwindled and we were left wondering what had happened. We continued to set up the program--which was A LOT of work--clearing out the activity room, setting up all the stations and signage, then cleaning up and dragging the bins back to the storage closet. I finally decided to close up shop.
As a new program year started, I had the idea to give it another try and have Tot Spot open immediately following our half-hour storytime on Monday evenings--again, once a month on the last Monday of the month. This worked out OK, but it was still a crazy amount of work for the six kids who came to Storytime. Also, the kids were so excited when it was Tot Spot night, that they didn't care about the book or craft for Storytime. Some moms felt it was too late to stay after storytime to play, and inevitably we would have a meltdown from a child who wanted to stay. Again, Tot Spot got "shelved."
I felt is was a terrible waste of resources to have the wonderful Tot Spot materials packed in a closet. I found space in the Children's Department (thanks to the support of my director who agreed to move an outdated "kids" computer that rarely worked!) and our Early Literacy Tot Spot was born! I only set up two themed stations at a time and keep them up for about 4 - 6 weeks. The kids are always excited to see what the next stations will be.
The response has been terrific! We reach many more children by having the stations up all the time. We also have a rack of early literacy handouts nearby for parents to read while the kids play. It's a lot less work for us, because it's only two stations at a time and they are easy to keep tidy. Best of all, it's a program that virtually runs itself!