For Release: Immediately
Department of External Affairs
Free Library of Philadelphia
1901 Vine Street
Philadelphia, PA 19103-1189
(215) 567-7710
FAX (215) 567-7850
Contact: Communications and Development
For Release: Immediately
Contact: Communications and Development


These vibrant new spaces, funded by the William Penn Foundation, transform the children’s areas into dynamic learning landscapes that promote motor skills, language development, and early literacy

PHILADELPHIA, June 18, 2018—The Free Library of Philadelphia has launched new, cutting-edge Play-and-Learn Spaces in the children’s sections of three neighborhood libraries: Cecil B. Moore Library in North Philadelphia, Whitman Library in South Philadelphia, and Wyoming Library in Feltonville. These dynamic new spaces will be transformative for neighborhood children, providing literacy-rich playscapes expressly designed to promote language development, motor skills, and creative play—the building blocks with which young children form and grow the preliteracy skills they need to become school-ready. The Library is grateful to the William Penn Foundation for funding this project, with additional support from the Knight Foundation.

These spaces, unique among traditional U.S. children’s libraries, draw on extensive research showing the impact of play on language development and cognitive ability. With climbing walls, perching towers, nooks and tunnels, magnetic surfaces with large letter magnets, and reading alcoves inside shelving units, the spaces encourage both active play and quiet reading and reflection. With the guidance of community input, they were designed by architecture firm Digsau and Studio Ludo, a play-focused nonprofit, and outfitted with materials fabricated by Erector Sets, Inc. Staff from Smith Playground have trained key library staff in how to best use these spaces to promote free play and learning.

“We used to ask families and children to sit quietly and read together—that is what people did at the library. We now know that children learn best through play, an understanding that has guided us to re-envision how our children’s spaces could maximize children’s learning,” said Siobhan A. Reardon, Free Library President and Director. “At our core, we are a learning space, and we are thrilled to introduce these dynamic new children’s areas that are wholly unlike other spaces neighborhood children encounter, and that will facilitate high-quality language experiences between children and their caregivers.”

“The library has embraced a wide range of initiatives to make sure more children in Philadelphia are reading on grade level,” said Dr. Janet Haas, Board Chair of the William Penn Foundation. “These new Play-and-Learn Spaces are another step in that important work and illustrate the evolving role of libraries today in creatively engaging children around learning and literacy.” 

This project is a component of the Free Library’s effort to develop robust, data-driven, and diverse early childhood literacy opportunities for Philadelphia’s children across the Library system. The Play-and-Learn Spaces will be used as learning laboratories for the Free Library system, to determine best practices for incorporating play into early-literacy skill building. Learning Landscapes, a team of psychology, education, and design experts run by Kathy Hirsh-Pasek of Temple University and the Brookings Institution, has created an evaluation framework for compiling and evaluating data from the spaces.

In the coming months, Digsau and Studio Ludo will also be installing outdoor spaces at Cecil B. Moore Library and at Kingsessing Library in Southwest Philadelphia.

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About the Free Library of Philadelphia
The Free Library of Philadelphia system, with 54 locations and the Rosenbach, advances literacy, guides learning, and inspires curiosity with millions of digital and physical materials; 25,000 yearly programs and workshops; free public computers and extensive Wi-Fi, including neighborhood Hotspots; and rich special collections, including  those at Parkway Central Library and at the Rosenbach. With more than 6 million in-person visits and millions more online annually, the Free Library and the Rosenbach are among the most widely used educational and cultural institutions in Philadelphia and boast a worldwide impact.

About the William Penn Foundation
The William Penn Foundation, founded in 1945 by Otto and Phoebe Haas, is dedicated to improving the quality of life in the Greater Philadelphia region through efforts that increase educational opportunities for children from low-income families, ensure a sustainable environment, foster creativity that enhances civic life, and advance philanthropy in the Philadelphia region. In partnership with others, the Foundation works to advance opportunity, ensure sustainability, and enable effective solutions. Since inception, the Foundation has made nearly 10,000 grants totaling over $1.6 billion.



Department of External Affairs, Free Library of Philadelphia, 1901 Vine Street, Philadelphia, PA 19103-1189
(215) 567-7710, FAX (215) 567-7850