Last fall, I read this great post on the ALSC blog about a Post Office Early Literacy Center that the Lexington Park Library put together. I have been looking for a center like this to add to our library and was quite impressed. Because it has multiple parts, you can scale it back or enhance it, depending on your clientele or space.
To put our early literacy center together, our biggest obstacle was space. While I love the idea of individual mailboxes for the characters, we have no where to put them at this time. Just about every inch of our branch has a purpose and it is difficult to rededicate that space. Our tables are always filled (in fact, we could honestly use more) so we couldn't take one away to set up the center. We have no empty wall space where we could add a hook for the mail carrier costume or signage to go with the center. What we did have, though, was metal endcaps for our shelves. We split our center in two and put it at the ends of two aisles.
Here's what we did:
1. We purchased 2 red Kritter tables and 2 yellow Kritter chairs from Ikea. The tables are really sturdy and will hold up well. I am not so sure about the chairs, but the two tables are still easily accessible without chairs.
2. The mailbox and the post office sorter were bought from Lakeshore Learning. When we purchased ours, the post office was on clearance (whoo hoo!), but it looks like it is on their web site again. You will also need wet erase markers to write the names on the sorter. We bought the mail carrier costume for our Main Library, but we just don't have space at our branch.
3. Now we needed supplies. Since we were purchasing from Lakeshore Learning already, we bought our newsprint there. We are using the grade 1 newsprint because this is our target audience. We want to catch those kids who are just learning to write. Most of our office supplies are bought through Office Depot and we found beginners' pencils. I chose the ones without the erasers because I would like the pencils to stay with the station and not be taken to do everyone's homework (which would happen). Then we needed a way to sharpen the pencils. Office Depot also sold a sharpener with a larger hole for the beginner-sized pencils. We also needed a reusable way for kids to mail their letters. The smallest size that we could find was a 5x7 clear envelope.
Next we got everything set up and put the new furniture together. We chose our characters based on those that we display at our various locations and on our 100 Books to Read Before Kindergarten list. We added labels to the envelopes and made a cool stamp out of our logo. Then we tried to fit our envelope into the sorter slot. Sigh. It was too big. I went back online to look for something smaller to no avail. Then another staff member suggested cutting off the bottom and using booktape to seal the plastic together. It works and it looks good.
Everything has been totally set up for 3 days now. I probably have at least 10 letters that I can use for future promotional stuff. There have been countless others where kids practiced writing their name, the character's name, and drew pictures of elephants (story time topic this week). I am impressed with how successful it actually is. Since I have money leftover from the clearance price on the post office sorter, I will be purchasing more paper as we will need it. If you are looking for something new to do at your library, I would definitely recommend this project!