Anythink Libraries and Nature Explore—the Future of Learning

by Dexter Lane, Nature Explore Consultant


What? Build a new library in 2010, housing print books and paper magazines? What were they thinking at Anythink Libraries in Thornton, Colorado?

My first indication that Anythink was on to something was that their large parking lot—over half full—at mid-day on a Friday. There were banners on lampposts with words like “castle” and “love.” I then saw a teen with skateboard and mother with two children entering the doors as I went in.

Within a few minutes I realized I was taking in the future of libraries, and was delighted to find their Nature Explore Classroom was a seamless extension of their indoor achievement. Maybe it was the just-hatched chickens in the lobby, or the full indoor tree in the children’s book section; but I soon knew that the chicks, the tree, and the outdoor classroom areas for art, music, climbing and water were from the same mindset.

“We use a bookstore model of organizing our material,” says Lynda Freas, Family Services Director. “People can intuitively find things by words rather than numbers.”

Small music and video recording areas are found in the Teen Library. Children explore books in the subject sections that interest them, and other resources in specialized areas. Creativity and self-directed explorations are the norm inside the Anythink Library—as they are outdoors, in their Nature Explore Classroom.

“Until our Nature Explore Classroom was here,” Lynda says, “people just walked through this park, never stopping to enjoy the outdoors.”

The outdoor classroom changed that. “We don’t have to guide children once they get here,” said Lynda.  “They just all find something to do.  Their parents and caretakers socialize outside, and often participate with them. This never happened before.”

The Nature Explore outdoor classroom items—Marimba, SlapDrum, Dancing Scarves, Discovery Tables, Baby Tree Blocks—they’re all here, and all are used in self-directed play by enthusiastic children. Their outdoor space, once neglected, is now a learning-center matching their indoor space, thanks to the visionaries at Anythink, Nature Explore, and to the child’s inborn love of nature.