Thursday, November 30, 2023

Williamsburg Regional Library officials call this new children’s area ‘revolutionary.’ Here’s why

UPDATE from the Williamsburg Regional Library, March  12, 2020: “In order to help safeguard the health of the community the Williamsburg Regional Library is postponing the opening of the new Kiwanis Kids Idea Studio at the James City County Library scheduled for March 21, 2020. The opening will be delayed until the coronavirus outbreak is contained since the newly renovated children’s room is an interactive and hands-on learning space. The library system will continue to offer library services for children at the Mini-Children’s Library at the James City County Library, the Williamsburg Library, and online at”


The James City County Library will officially open what officials described as “revolutionary new type of children’s area” March 21.

Williamsburg Regional Library began a major renovation project last fall that aimed to transform the existing children’s area at the James City County Library into “a vibrant, engaging” new space that will place focus on the twin literacy skills of reading and play, according to a news release from the library.

The new area is called the Kiwanis Kids Idea Studio. Officials described it as “a groundbreaking take on a children’s library that integrates the existing collection of books, DVDs, and other materials seamlessly with children’s museum-style interactive elements.”

“The Idea Studio is the first of its kind,” said library director Betsy Fowler. “We know that play is the chief learning activity of preschool children, and toys and games are their first reading tools, so we wanted to design a new type of children’s library that reflects that.”

The importance of play as a vital activity that is crucial to supporting traditional literacy skills is well documented and is now being integrated into the library world. The Idea Studio boasts many exciting firsts, including being the first children’s library in Virginia to have an interactive digital play table or Awesome Air Tubes — hands-on science learning elements that are more commonly found in science or children’s museums, officials said.

Other features include an interactive floor projection play area, a giant illuminated pixel peg wall, a LEGO wall, a microscope station, a movable magnetic gear wall, and a ball wall with a large assortment of magnetic ramps, shoots, spinners, and other contraptions that can be arranged and rearranged to explore advanced concepts such as kinetic energy, friction, and inertia.

The Idea Studio’s “Village” area will feature a Pet Vet furnished by Noah’s Ark Veterinary Hospital, a house with furniture and accessories furnished by the Carolina Furniture Company, and even a market stocked with plastic groceries provided by Publix Super Market — another exciting first, as Publix has never supported a market play area in a library before.

The current storytime room will also double as an Art Studio, complete with easels, tables, and craft supplies.

The space has also been designed with an eye to inclusivity.

Many of the new features were chosen for their appeal to children on the autism spectrum, and the activities available compliment a wide range of learning styles, officials said. (Story continues below the gallery).

The design of the new space allows for an expansion of the play areas without a reduction in the size of the children’s collection housed at the James City County Library by mixing shelves and book displays in with the new elements, according to the news release.

In many cases the books and other materials will be distributed throughout the space in a way that complements the nearby activities and structures.

“We have embraced an idea that a lot of libraries are currently considering — linking our collections to the activities we offer,” Fowler said. “For example, we’ll be displaying books about animals near the Pet Vet building, and just a few steps away we have cozy nooks that are perfect for families to curl up and read together. We’re excited to be pioneering this approach to integrating play and reading.”

WRL’s youth services staff also plans to be very proactive about planning programs that utilize and compliment the Idea Studio’s many features.

“In the coming months you’ll start to see a robust schedule of storytimes, craft programs, performances and more taking place in the Idea Studio,” Fowler said. “We want to give families a reason to come back again and again, and we hope they discover something new every time.”

The project is made possible with support from the James City County Capital Improvements Projects funds, operational funding from the Williamsburg Regional Library, and a major fundraising effort from the Friends of Williamsburg Regional Library Foundation. The Friends campaign received money from the three local Kiwanis clubs as well as the regional Kiwanis organization, local businesses, and private donors, according to the news release.

The grand opening will be on March 21 at 10 a.m.

There will be facepainting, balloon animals, arts and crafts, and a special appearance by our Idea Studio mascot, Sprocket the robotic dog.

Light refreshments will be served, officials said.

John Mangalonzo
John Mangalonzo
John Mangalonzo ( is the managing editor of Local Voice Media’s Virginia papers – WYDaily (Williamsburg), Southside Daily (Virginia Beach) and HNNDaily (Hampton-Newport News). Before coming to Local Voice, John was the senior content editor of The Bellingham Herald, a McClatchy newspaper in Washington state. Previously, he served as city editor/content strategist for USA Today Network newsrooms in St. George and Cedar City, Utah. John started his professional journalism career shortly after graduating from Lyceum of The Philippines University in 1990. As a rookie reporter for a national newspaper in Manila that year, John was assigned to cover four of the most dangerous cities in Metro Manila. Later that year, John was transferred to cover the Philippine National Police and Armed Forces of the Philippines. He spent the latter part of 1990 to early 1992 embedded with troopers in the southern Philippines as they fought with communist rebels and Muslim extremists. His U.S. journalism career includes reporting and editing stints for newspapers and other media outlets in New York City, California, Texas, Iowa, Utah, Colorado and Washington state.

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