Originally Published: November 18, 2012 9:59 p.m.
PRESCOTT - It did not take long for the half-dozen toddlers to get the hang of their new early-literacy play space at the Prescott Public Library.
No sooner had the one- and two-year-olds ripped down the brown paper that was hiding the space Saturday morning than they were guiding a toy train along its tracks and checking out a new supply of hand puppets.
Little Amara Nagella gravitated to the colorful letters of the alphabet that allowed her to use a magnetic stylus to guide a ball along the plastic form of a letter.
"That's a W," her mom Ellen Nagella told the two-year-old.
At the same time, Amara's twin brother Arjun was busy shifting gears on the mini replica of a car's dashboard.
"This is just what this library needed," Nagella said.
She and the other parents who turned out for the grand opening of the library's new Rock Garden agreed on the importance of allowing toddlers to play, learn, and interact with other children at the same time.
Kat Gautreaux, who brought her one-and-a-half-year-old daughter Ada to the grand opening, said the Rock Garden fills a need for parents and toddlers.
"There are not a lot of places that offer a safe place where children can play with other children during convenient hours," she said.
Martha Baden, lead librarian for youth services, said the theme for the new play area is "lifespan learning."
By providing educational tools such as toys, puppets, books, wordbooks, comfortable furniture, and an electronic guest book, Baden said the Rock Garden can help to lay a good foundation for learning.
The area, which is in the library's lower level near the "Ancient Vistas" canyon mural, is specifically for children from birth to five years old.
"Our hope is that the parents will be right there with them," Baden said.
As she introduced the Rock Garden to the 20 or so people who turned out for Saturday's grand opening, Baden said, "We really see this as a garden for children, and how they grow in learning."
She added: "It's a big experiment, so help us learn from it."
Library Director Roger Saft pointed out that the Friends of the Prescott Public Library were instrumental in getting the idea off the ground.
The idea formed in December 2011 when the Friends organization set aside $5,000, and an individual donor contributed $1,000 for the development of the play space.
Then, in May 2012, the library received a $15,000 grant from the Arizona State Library, Archives and Public Records Agency, a division of the Arizona Secretary of State, under the Library Services and Technology Act, which is administered by the Institute of Museum and Library Services.
Baden said the name, The Rock Garden, came about because of play area's spot in front of the canyon mural. To help tie it all together, local upholsterer Richard Soto designed several large, comfortable cushions that resemble rocks.
As the toddlers lined up to unveil the space Saturday, Baden told the parents: "The most critical element is you - the gardeners. We really envision you all playing together."