Also, I realized afterwards that I never mentioned what is the biggest benefit of these activities--and that is the conversations they spark between toddlers and their grownups. When I shifted from a craft emphasis (you'll see a lot of old craft postings in my blog from before I made this switch) to an activity focus (and sometimes we don't do an art project--sometimes we just play with loose parts and the things on the cart I shared with you--the counting bears, shapes, beads, etc.), the entire nature of the conversations I heard changed. There were lots of questions from the adults to their toddlers: "What will you do with that? Which thing will you use next?" and so forth. Why is this conversation so different? Because when I offered crafts, the conversation was about the adult telling the child what step should be next--glue this here, color that, etc.--but with the loose parts, the decision-making entirely shifts to the child. Are we going to sort? Stack? Build? Count? Make a picture? Make a scene? Transfer things from the container to the tray and back again? The child takes control of the play.
So here's my storytime and craft space: (Please excuse the boxes stacked on the cabinet next to the storytime chair--they're for the toddler drive-in we're having later this month.)
After storytime, if there is an art activity, that happens at the tables, and the cart of other activities is parked next to the chest of cushions. Children take what they want and play with them on the carpet. If we just do loose parts instead of a craft, those trays and containers are laid out on the tables, and the cart of other activities still goes next to the chest of cushions by the window.
I set out the caterpillar tube in the back area of the carpet that you see in the first photo, but it never stays there...it rolls a bit as kiddos play, so occasionally if it gets too close to other activities, a grownup or I will drag it a bit out of the way.
During the summer when we sometimes have really huge storytimes (100+), people will sit even on the edge of the tiled area. Behind the carpeted area in my first photo are the edge of the easy reader section of the collection and the play space, so sometimes people are right up against those sections, and we squish forward as much as we can to accommodate everyone.
If you find other great post-storytime activities for toddlers, please consider sharing them here or on Library Talk--I'm always combing through blogs, Pinterest, and professional books looking for more to add to our rotation.