While it’s not widely known, for the last several years, libraries across the globe have been hosting “Stuffed Animal Sleepovers” in the children’s section to encourage an early love of reading. And it’s even more adorable than it sounds.
Here’s how it works: Kids bring their favorite stuffed pal to the library (researchers say it’s best if they choose one they’re especially attached to). Then librarians usually lead the kids in a story time circle with their favorite toy. After that, it’s time for the kids to say goodbye and goodnight — but they leave their little buddy behind for the overnight library party.
Once the doors are shut, the library staff gets to work posing the stuffed animals living it up at the library all night long, and snapping photos as they go.
The cuteness that results is beyond …
Stuffed bears are often posed while picking books from bookshelves, and reading to each other.
Then they all gather in groups, just sitting there reading. (It’s adorable!)
It’s an up-all-night book fest at the library.
And these little critters get into everything — not just books.
At West Orange Public Library in New Jersey, they dip into the fridge for a late night snack …
Take part in sing-a-longs at the piano …
They even hold impromptu meetings to discuss “important” business.
Toys have an awesome time at the sleepovers at Darien Library in Connecticut, too.
They slide down bannisters …
They use all the fun office supplies …
And they take fun trips up the elevator.
After all this late-night adventure, they’re carefully tucked in for some much-needed shut-eye.
(Who knew the library was such a party zone?!)
When the kids come back the next day to pick up their little loved ones, they get to look through photos of all the fun their pals had, which are usually posted on the library’s Facebook page or to a Flickr account.
“One of the stand-out moments for me was the kids’ excitement when they saw the pictures,” says a librarian from West Orange Public Library. She tells Babble that the idea of all this playful interaction at the library makes it magical for the kids.
And when it comes to reading, the “magic” helps. In fact, a recent study led by researcher Yoshihiro Okazaki of Okayama University, found that instilling a sense of magic and wonder is a necessary part of getting kids to fall in love with reading in the first place. What’s more, Okazaki says that sleepover programs — just like the ones held in Darien and West Orange — increased reading interest. (After all, once the kids see their stuffed animals reading books, they want to read with them, too!)
Okazaki says these library programs, “contribute to the smooth transition from passive to active reading,” which is what inspires kids to pick up a book on their own and read, instead of having their parent read to them.
And that’s what our kids need most, isn’t it? We love to read to them, but we know that they need to pick up books on their own.
For some kids, that’s easy. My two eldest kids were naturals at reading. But for my youngest, a love for books wasn’t automatic. She’d rather dance or dress-up than sit still for story time.
But this study shows that her natural inclinations toward fun and imagination need to become a part of reading for her. Like dressing up her pink kitty stuffed animal to get ready for story time. Or looking at books about dance where she and her soft friends get up to leap around in the middle.
When my 4-year-old daughter saw the library sleepover pictures, her eyes lit up and she gave me a big, “Awwwwwww.” Then she said: “I want to do that!”
Okazaki tells Babble that parents also reported back that their child was far more attentive to their stuffed animal after the sleepover, looking after them more closely than ever before.
The truth is, we all know early reading programs are vital. But now we know even more about what librarians probably figured out a long time ago: that we should not only encourage our children to read by reading to them, but encourage them to do it on their own in new and engaging ways.
Clearly, there are huge payoffs.