Imagination Station: Movie Theater

Westerville Library’s youth department includes a pretend play area–our Imagination Station. Each month, a different youth librarian picks a theme and plans a play area designed for ages 3-6.

There are no strict guidelines for this space, but generally we try to:

  • Pick a theme that appeals to children
  • Keep all activities safe for all ages
  • Make clean-up and maintenance manageable for staff
  • Create materials and activities that are durable
  • Incorporate early literacy activities

In August 2018, I took over the Imagination Station, creating a play space I had been looking forward to for over a year: a movie theater.

Pretend Play: Movie Theater

While some of my Imagination Stations include a ton of obvious early literacy activities, this one focused almost entirely on pretend play. This appealed to all ages, with evening staff occasionally having to distract our older teens from playing at the Imagination Station so some of the younger toddlers could still enjoy the space. Pretend play has a ton of benefits for all ages, including social-emotional skills, language development, vocabulary building, problem solving skills, and more.

To create the “movie theater” experience, my Imagination Station had a few key areas:

  • Ticket Booth
  • Concession Stand (with popcorn machine)
  • Movie Posters
  • Showtime Board

Ticket Booth

The ticket booth included our department cash register, stocked with fake money. There was also a bin of tickets with space for cashiers to write down the name of the movie and a “tear-off” side so the tickets could be redeemed to see a movie. We had 3D glasses too–you have to be prepared for those special (and more expensive) movie showings!

Concession Stand

The concession stand included all of the classic movie theater favorites including:

  • Nachos (yellow felt circles — purchased pre-cut from Etsy for less than $5)
  • “Cheese” cups (condiment cups with yellow circles hot glued to the bottom
  • Drink Cups
  • Candy (purchased at Dollar Tree, emptied of candy, stuffed with stuffing, and wrapped in packing tape)
  • Popcorn

The popcorn machine was the favorite item of our visitors, but the least favorite item of staff. The popcorn box was a Donatos pizza delivery box from a past lock-in (when we had 20+ pizzas delivered). Holes were cut in each side, and the largest three holes were covered in clear cellophane. Popcorn could be scooped out of the front.

The individual popcorn kernels were crumpled squares of roughly 2″ x 2″ tissue paper. The kids loved the texture and enjoyed unraveling and re-rolling popcorn kernels.

Staff did not enjoy the clean up. I am still apologizing for the popcorn of 2018.

Movie Posters

The movie posters were one of my personal favorite spaces in this Imagination Station. Our awesome marketing department printed the larger “Coming Soon” and “Now Playing” signs on our library banner printer. I laminated those and attached 11″ x 17″ page protectors with a ton of packing tape, leaving the top of the sleeve open.

I printed about 20 kids movie posters that were a little smaller than the sleeves (so that pages dropped in easily). Kids loved swapping the posters out to show what was playing in their theater.

Showtime Board

The last element of my Imagination Station was the “Showtimes” board. This included a collection of showtimes and movie titles (that matched the names on the movie posters) that kids could swap out on our department magnet board.

I love creating these pretend play areas, but this theme was definitely one of my favorites. The kids loved it, asking where the popcorn went months later.

One of my favorite stories was when a child took her dad into our homework help center (during the early afternoon, when it wasn’t in use), turned off the lights, and started the movie, which they “watched” together while eating popcorn in the dark space. Pretend play for the win!

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