Playbrary Brings Sustainability-Focused Imaginative Fun to Grays Ferry

“Loose parts spark imagination,” explains the founder of the unique new playspace for kids.

Loose parts library at Playbrary / Photography by Laura Swartz

Arrive at the former Grays Ferry church and you question whether you’re in the right place. You would never know Playbrary existed if you weren’t looking for it. And, like stumbling upon Playbrary itself, its origin was a happy accident.

Playground design and advocacy firm Studio Ludo had established their office in the large, sunlit space when the pandemic hit — which meant people weren’t gathering and playgrounds weren’t being built. So the firm put together free “play packs” for Philly students, given out by the school district at meal distribution sites; the project was later expanded to CHOP and local YMCAs. The kits had simple, inexpensive craft projects with easily accessible materials like construction paper and recycled cardboard, and they spread a little joy and whimsy in a dark time. But then, Studio Ludo had a lot of leftover supplies.

Advocacy program manager Tiffany Durkson had an idea: Build a “loose parts” library and invite the kids. And with that, Studio Ludo expanded into the space adjoining their office and created a wonderland unlike any other playspace in Philly.

To supplement their excess craft supplies, Playbrary takes donations from the community — anything from a well-loved Barbie Dreamhouse to a bag of bottles fished out of the recycle bin to a broken inkjet printer that’s been sitting in your closet since 2009. In fact, 90 percent of their materials were donated. Durkson sanitizes, weighs, and sorts everything — they are reborn as playthings. In addition to creating a place for kids to play and imagine, Playbrary also has a mission of sustainability. They have thus far diverted 2,000 pounds of waste from landfills.

Pez dispensers, typewriters, a fax machine.

Walk into Playbrary, and you’ll see rows and rows of everything from cardboard boxes to old typewriters to corks from wine bottles to a bowl full of Pez dispensers, all arranged in colorful shelves and labeled cubbies. Open one drawer, and you’ve got an abundance of buttons. Open another, it’s discarded kitchenware. The possibilities are endless.

“Normally when kids come in, first they play with traditional toys and then you see them look at the loose parts and get creative,” says Durkson. “That’s where the joy happens. Loose parts spark imagination.”

Playbrary started off on an annual-membership basis, but quickly shifted to a free-membership model because, as Durkson puts it, “You can’t put a price on play.” As members, kids can also borrow toys for up to 30 days — another feature that helps reduce families’ footprints (and clutter). The “loose parts” can be taken home permanently, so kids can dream up more creations on their own.


Making a “trash monster” at Playbrary

Their newly acquired 501(c)(3) status helps advance that mission as well, allowing them to accept monetary donations to keep the doors open. Durkson hopes they can also raise enough money to hire staff and expand their hours for the community. As of right now, Playbrary is not open on weekends, as its hours coincide with those of Studio Ludo — save for their monthly “Second Saturday” community play days.

You can currently visit Playbrary (always free-of-charge) Mondays through Thursdays, from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. The first hour of each day features arts and crafts programming, and the rest of the day is unstructured free play — and even during that, there is plenty of artsy guidance in the form of instructional cards and friendly staff. The space is located at 1313 South 33rd Street, unit A in Grays Ferry.

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