New Play and Learn Kits at the Cary Library in Houlton will help preschoolers with developing learning and reading skills. Credit: Courtesy Cary Library

HOULTON, Maine – Sometimes you can’t beat the basics, and Houlton’s Cary Library is rolling out some old-fashioned fun to get kids learning.

The library is the first in Maine to offer a Wisconsin company’s take-home kits designed for tiny hands, said Library Director Linda Faucher.

In an era where even toddlers have tablets and watch YouTube videos, the kits involve fun, hands-on activities. Reminiscent of a time when kids made mud pies and counted tadpoles, the tools help kids learn in the real world, rather than on a screen.

“Play can be a teaching moment,” Faucher said. “Little ones get repetitious words associated with an action. They learn new words and new actions, all building blocks in getting prepared to learn to read.”

Faucher chose these kits from school and public library bookseller Penworthy of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, which also creates the phonics kits the library offers for older kids.

The Cary Library has 15 kits, purchased with a $1,944 Rotary Club of Houlton grant. Each includes a board book and large, durable items related to the story to help children develop motor skills and understand the pictures in the book.

It’s the hands-on sharing of words, pictures and actions that makes them fun, Faucher said.

Hands-on play enhances learning and spurs neurological development, according to research . Evidence shows play is the best way to support learning, said a report by The Lego Foundation.

The truck kit is designed for a “young gearhead,” according to Penworthy. It comes with a tractor trailer and all its parts, along with tools like a wrench and hammer to help the child put the truck together.

In sharing the kit with a young child, the caregiver might show the child a picture of the truck in the book and ask, “What is your truck missing?,” Faucher said. If the wheels are missing, the tools can help the child add them to match the picture.

In the outdoor kit on camping and fishing, kids develop an imaginary camping scene. Move and play gets kids moving with games as they learn to listen, follow directions, take turns and imitate.

Cary Library’s kits also include construction, flowers and unicorns, letters and numbers, shapes, castles and dragons. Kids can learn to stack and sort, explore colors, play “Paw Patrol” and pretend to be police officers and firefighters.

“Each kit will spark a conversation between caregiver and youngster and activate imaginary play,” Faucher said.

The first kits will be available for checkout on Friday, Feb. 3.

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Kathleen Phalen Tomaselli

Kathleen Phalen Tomaselli is a reporter covering the Houlton area. Over the years, she has covered crime, investigations, health, politics and local government, writing for the Washington Post, the LA...