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You may expect to enter the hushed confines of a solemn institution when you walk in the Lester Public Library. What you will encounter, however, are sweet sounds of joie de vivre emanating from the dramatic play center in the youth area, where children are amidst adventures.

At Sweets Bakery, children busily discuss menu items, take orders, serve a delightful assortment of pastries, and ring up the charges. It’s a wonderful pretend world where kids and their adults immerse themselves in play, because that’s the BEST way for children to learn.

Sweets, with outfitted kitchen, a service counter and donut station, lots of goodies, and chairs and tables for customers, is the library’s latest dramatic play scenario. Prior installations have included the Taco Truck, the Caterpillar Café, an animal hospital and a space station. Youth staff change it up three times a year. Their goal is to keep offering new worlds that kids can explore in different ways, with new vocabulary sets to develop.

Dramatic play (also called pretend play) is more than fun; it’s a learning experience that engages virtually every part of a child’s developing brain. Kids love to take on role-playing scenarios like parent and child, cashier and customer, or characters in a fairy tale, and this kind of play is an integral part of a child’s social, emotional and cognitive development.

It strengthens other crucial skills, like self-regulation, helping children inhibit their impulses, coordinate with others and make plans. Disagreements between children crop up naturally in dramatic play, offering the chance for conflict resolution—working through their differences and arranging a compromise. It provides opportunities to see functional print like words on menus and other signage, giving them experience with the many ways we use text every day. And it increases reading comprehension since children often act out scenes from favorite stories, which helps them gain deeper understanding of a story.

So visit the bakery with your child to order pastries and coffee. Ask questions about the items and what they cost. Request specific colors or amounts. Pay and ask for change. The positive results of your interactions will last a lifetime.

Sweets will be at the library through April 23. What’s to come? There are oceans of possibilities.

See photos of Sweets Bakery.

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