New program for tots supports playing, learning at Greensburg Hempfield Area Library

Carson Anderton donned a pint-sized lab coat and, for a short time, became Dr. Mario, a character from the Super Mario Brothers video game universe.

The 3-year-old Penn Township boy also has explored the diversion to be found in a play toolbox and has bonded with another tot over toy gears.

“He loves the hands-on stuff, and there’s a lot of imaginative play,” said his mom, Hannah, one of the parents who accompanied more than a dozen kids age 1-3 Monday as they completed a new five-week series of hour-long sessions at the Greensburg Hempfield Area Library.

The free program offered just what it advertised in its title: “Play. Learn. Connect.”

“Play is how young children, especially, learn,” said head children’s librarian Jessica Kiefer. “While they’re playing, they’re learning a lot of other things along with it.”

Among the program’s nearly dozen activity stations, a “dramatic play” area offered uniforms the children could try on, along with related adult occupations, and hand puppets to help explore even more characters. In addition to learning about roles, responsibilities and relationships, the station’s aim was to help the kids express emotions and expand vocabulary and language skills.

The informal sessions provided opportunities to socialize, a process that many of the youngsters may have to catch up on after being subject to isolating restrictions during the early phase of the covid-19 pandemic.

Sarah Dukovic of Greensburg attended all five of the sessions with her sons, Henry, 3, and Daniel, 1.

“I like having them around kids their own age,” she said. “Henry is starting preschool in September. That’s a big part of why we were interested in this, to make sure he’s comfortable in this type of setting. It gets him a little bit into the groove of being around other kids his age.”

Each session also included an art activity.

Maddie Gregory, 2, of Madison, took advantage of the finger-painting station, personalizing her artwork with a hand print.

“She talked about this all week,” said her dad, Dave. “She’s kind of an outgoing kid. She isn’t in day care, so this is an awesome chance for her to get together with other kids.”

Parents talked about how much their kids enjoyed making their own version of Play-Doh the previous week.

“I really appreciate them making Play-Doh here, so I don’t’ have the mess at home,” said Hannah Anderton.

A teacher at Laurel Valley Elementary School in St. Clair Township, she was able to appreciate the underlying importance of the play time, as was her friend, Courtney Silvio of New Stanton, a teacher at R.K. Mellon Elementary in Ligonier Township.

Anderton also brings her son, Corey, who, at 3 months old, still benefits from added stimulation at the sessions.

In addition to music-making toys, she said, “He’s getting to hear all the different voices” of other children and adults.

Silvio has seen her daughters, Maya, 3, and Madelyn, 1, develop problem-solving skills, including how to share toys with other children.

On Monday, when one child grabbed a broom from a rack of toy cleaning tools in a kitchen-themed play area, others were quick to take notice and start divvying up other selections, including a duster.

Silvio said ear infections have troubled her younger daughter and affected her balance as she struggles to improve her walking skills.

“She can do it, she just is very uneasy,” Silvio said. “It’s been helpful for her to see other kids her size walking.”

Madelyn was scheduled for a medical procedure to address her ear problems, but her mother said the library program provided contacts for resources that might provide additional help.

A resource table was a feature of the program’s play area, set up in a space on the library’s second floor that had been occupied by a state tax office.

Weekly community resource professionals also attended the sessions to offer parents tips on various early childhood topics. Two speech therapists attended Monday’s session.

“Most of the parents are here for the fun of playing with their kids,” said Kiefer.

Having childhood experts available is “kind of a bonus,” she said. “It’s very informal. This isn’t a lecture, a presentation or an intervention in any way.

“They’re here to play with the kids, talk to the parents and answer any questions. They’re here to kind of guide the parents along and meet the families where they are.”

There was a waiting list to sign up for the recently completed series, which is open to any Westmoreland County family with kids ages 1-3. Kiefer said the library intends to repeat the program at least twice each year and likely will begin another five-week series in the coming fall.

The library used about $6,000 of a $20,000 state grant to purchase the play kitchen and other apparatus geared to young children, including a train table that has yet to be assembled.

The Greensburg library was just one of six in Pennsylvania that recently received a Family Place Library grant through the Office of Commonwealth Libraries. The Andrew Carnegie Free Library and Music Hall in Allegheny County was another grant recipient.

The grant provided a collection of books on early childhood topics that parents can borrow. It also covered training for Kiefer and Library Director Jamie K. Falo and will be used to expand the permanent play space in the library’s second-floor children’s area.

“We’re thinking about removing a shelf so we can extend a little bit more the area that is available to play and learn,” said Falo.

Since the grant didn’t cover furniture, Falo said, the library has applied for additional funding to purchase “comfy seating for the parents and grandparents.”

Visit for more information about library programs for children and adults.