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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!

Imagination Station: Mission Control

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 June 2019, I took over the Imagination Station, connecting it to our Summer Reading theme, Read and Blast Off.

Pretend Play: Mission Control

The star of the space themed Imagination Station was our mission control board. I can’t provide much information on how this board was made–our amazing maintenance team took this project on.

Underneath the panel, a battery was attached with some wiring that made the lights turn on and numbers to change when kids flipped the switches. The best feature? The two phones actually talked to one another–if you held one phone to your ear, you could hear a person whispering into the other phone. So cool!

In addition to the amazing mission control board, we provided some simple dress up clothes to encourage pretend play. These included:

One of my favorite pretend play items were the jetpacks. These were not the most durable items. I had to remake an entire set halfway through the month. There are many instructions for these on Pinterest, but my steps are outlined below.

How to Make Jetpacks:

Materials (per jetpack):

  • 2 2-Liter Bottles (empty, without lids)
  • Thick Cardboard
  • Silver spray Paint
  • 2″ Thick Silver Ribbon
  • Silver Duct Tape
  • Hot Glue
  • Orange, Yellow, or Red Felt

Steps:

  • Cut cardboard so it is a little wider than the two pop bottles pressed together and just shorter than the height of the bottles.
  • Use spray paint to paint 2-Liter bottles and thick cardboard piece silver on all sides. Wait to dry.
  • Measure the silver ribbon to 18-24″ long. Use duct tape to secure to one side of the cardboard, creating a loop for a child to fit their arm. Repeat to create a second arm strap.
  • Flip the cardboard over and tape the two pop bottles to it. The more tape used here, the better. Wrap tape around all sides of the cardboard and use multiple layers, especially if the jetpack will receive a lot of use.
  • Cut felt to form flame shapes with a very narrow tip at the opposite end from the flames.
  • Squirt hot glue into the end of pop bottle and attach the flame pieces.

We also included a pretend play rocket tent for kids to explore.

Fine Motor Skills: Rocket Building

We purchased an additional pack of magnetiles to add to our regular storytime play collection. Kids built elaborate rockets and structures out of them.

Letter Recognition: Mission Codes

To incorporate early literacy, I created a mission codes matching activity. Kids had a bin of capital letters to sort through. They slid the capital letters into the 5″ x 7″ page protectors underneath the matching lowercase letters. The space words changed each week.

Writing: Trace Paths & Checklists

We included blank flight plan tracing sheets (from this Teachers Pay Teachers pack) to help build fine motor skills.

Flop: Moon Rock Exploration

I was really looking forward to this activity. Kids were supposed to explore tin foil balls–“moon rocks”–of different sizes with a magnifying glass, magnet, tweezers, and more. Instead, kids managed to rip off the gloves (which were hot glued, rubber banded, and sealed with shipping tape, plus duct tape later), take the foil balls out of the box, and pull them into tiny pieces.

This box didn’t last a full week–and we confirmed that nothing is kid proof.

Kids Passive Program: I Spy

A few year’s ago, one of my personal work goals was to start a monthly kids passive program. At the time, our library offered a monthly Imagination Station, a pretend play space for approximately ages 2-6, and a monthly teen passive, for students in grades 6-12. Children in the middle often ended up trying to participate in the activities designed for younger or older kids.

My very first kids passive involved a passive game of I Spy, playing off of the format of the well-loved book series. Our fantastic marketing department printed a massive I Spy poster I designed in Microsoft Publisher. The print took up the bulk of our passive wall at 84″ long by 36″ tall.

Luckily for you, I like to share. The full poster is available to download as a PDF below:

Each week, I put up a different I Spy Riddle that families used to interact with the wall.

In addition to playing using pre-written riddles, kids had the opportunity to write their own I Spy riddles, which we added to the wall for further interaction.

While I have done many kids passive programs since (look forward to future posts!), this is still one of my favorites. The size of the I Spy print thrilled many young visitors, and even with the hours it took to design the Publisher file, that process was still much less time consuming than cutting out and taping up each item individually (plus, the file can easily be reprinted!).

:)