SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — Toy lending libraries have popped up from coast to coast, including one based in Sioux Falls.

The local spot for borrowing toys got its start in 2015, and now features 14 locations stretching from Madison to Vermillion.

The Toy Lending Library has assembled nearly 1,000 boxes of toys, and borrows them free of charge to children up to age five.

“Our mission is to give opportunities to kids to learn through play. That’s what we’re here for,” Toy Lending Library Executive Director Anelis Coscioni said.

Anelis Coscioni is the Toy Lending Library Executive Director and stresses the importance of play.

“That’s their first learning, that’s the first school when they’re at home playing with toys, playing with pots and pans and everything you can get them. That’s when their brains are making those connections when ‘if I do this, that happens’,” Coscioni said.

Helping kids learn skills like holding a pencil.

“It’s not like magic that you give a kid a pencil, a lot of things they’re doing they’re building those muscles and those skills to eventually grab that pencil and learn to write,” Coscioni said.

“Any different skill you want to work on with a child you can here,” Sioux Falls resident Bryan Fodness said.

Bryan Fodness and his 4-year-old son, Jack, are regulars at the Toy Lending Library.

“In the beginning we kind of let him pick, he’d go through the colors, shapes, numbers, we’ve kind of mastered things like that so now we do focus more on things like academically that he can work on before school,” Fodness said.

Fodness says Jack recently went through an emotional stage. There’s a box for that.

“Work on your emotions, learning the difference between happy and sad, being able to recognize different emotions in yourself and other children,” Fodness said.

“One of my volunteers is a specialist in play and she builds a list of the skills the kids can learn with toys, and so I send them pictures of the toys and they do a check mark, this is what they help and then from there we’ll go and build the labels and build the box,” Coscioni said.

Amanda Larson is the organization’s toy specialist.

“People don’t always understand the value of toys and how they can help special skills,” Play Specialist Amanda Larson said.

Larson says there isn’t an academic skill that can’t be learned through play.

“Kids are relaxed, they’re not worried about whether they’re succeeding or failing or going to do the right thing, they just get to learn those skills and they’re building those neuro connections in their brain, those really good connections, they’re going to strengthen these skills throughout life,” Larson said.

The checklist features 20 categories, ranging from colors and numbers to fine motor and social skills, allowing the toy library to create a box tailored to a child’s needs.

“You don’t want to have to do the research and the understanding of what is the best thing, so that’s where we come in. We help people by creating that so you can just come and look at the label and go this is something my child might benefit from,” Larson said.

Coscioni also seeks input from libraries across the country as a board member of the USA Toy Library Association.

“What do they use, what do their kids like across the country,” Coscioni said.

And when she had a request for a toy box for a child with autism, she received assistance from professors at Augustana University.

“So they built this beautiful box that has a book about autism for the caregivers, a book in it for the children to play about emotions and that’s a big thing,” Coscioni said.

The Toy Lending Library had families borrow over 6,000 boxes last year, 2,000 more than in 2021.

“To be able to give them free resources that will help kids learn those skills that they’re going to be more successful when they go to school, it’s just amazing that we can do that,” Coscioni said.

And it’s a service that will only continue to grow.

“I have libraries on a waiting list that would like to have our toy boxes but right now we’re limited for funds and volunteers, we could use more volunteers and more funding to be able to grow even more. We’ll get there,” Coscioni said.

The Toy Lending Library is currently looking for people to volunteer their time or donate money or gently used toys.