What is Word-Play?
Word-Play is a community-based non-profit in downtown Toronto that aims to foster a love of reading and creative writing among elementary school-age children. All of our programs are based on the belief that children learn through play and that when reading and writing are fun, amazing things can happen.

When did it start?
In June 2006, not long after TYPE books opened its doors in the Queen Street West neighbourhood of Toronto, a small group of volunteers began working with owners, Samara Walbohm and Joanne Saul, to plan a free after-school program aimed at children from local schools. They embraced the idea with open arms, and Word-Play was born.

In fall 2006, we held our first session in the basement gallery of Type with a group of Grade 3-5 students from three local schools. Since then, we’ve held nine-week sessions every fall and spring; the program is known as Reading in the City. In the fall of 2010, we added a new creative writing workshop aimed at Grade 6 children from the same schools. We call this program Writing in the City.

In the summer of 2011, we held a two-week summer camp called Filming in the City. Children in the camp produced 90-second short films based on Newbery Award–winning books. (See the films here.)

We added Book Club in the City in 2019 in response to requests from participants who’d completed the other programs.

As we grow and continue to fundraise, we hope to add more programs. Watch here or sign up for our newsletter to hear more.

Who runs it?
Word-Play was started and is run by many dedicated volunteers—teachers, writers, booksellers, retirees and students, among them. See our Board of Directors bios here.

We have a small number of paid staff who run our specialized workshops. We also work closely with Teacher Candidates (TCs) in the York University Faculty of Education who are required to have placements in a community setting as part of their first year of study. These TCs plan and execute the Reading in the City program, and take an active role in Writing in the City.

What kind of programs do you offer?
Word-Play currently provides three free programs for children who attend three local schools and are identified by their teachers.

Reading in the City is offered once a week after school (September to mid-March) and is aimed at Grade 3-5 students who attend three schools in the Queen Street West neighbourhood. In each weekly after-school session, children are involved in storytelling, art, one-on-one reading, and lots of fun games aimed at encouraging a love of learning through reading and writing. Reading in the City is facilitated by volunteers and Teacher Candidates from York University’s Faculty of Education. Older children (some who’ve been through the program) are also involved as mentors, supporting the participants and TCs as well as gaining valuable leadership experience. To read more, click here.

Writing in the City is also offered once a week after school from September to mid-March. It is aimed at Grade 6 students from the same neighbourhood schools. Writing in the City is a creative-writing workshop run by a writer and arts educator. Through drama games, art, music, storytelling, creative movement and writing prompts, the children explore the basics of creative writing—fiction, nonfiction, poetry, dialogue, detail, voice and more. The second half of the year is project-based and the children complete at least one story or piece to share with the group. To read more about Writing in the City, click here.

Book Club in the City runs monthly after school. It is aimed at Grade 7 and 8s who’ve participated in other Word-Play programs. It uses many of the same arts-based learning strategies as in the other programs.

Is the work you do part of the Ontario school curriculum?
Word-Play programs operate outside the regular school curriculum. We think of it as a safe, creative, alternative space distinct from the formal education sector. However, we do work in close partnership with our feeder schools and the York Faculty of Education, and all of the programs support participants to improve their literacy and writing skills.

Sounds great! Where do I sign my child up?
Word-Play programs are currently offered only to children at Charles G. Fraser Public School, Niagara Street Junior Public School and St. Mary Catholic School in downtown Toronto. Teachers at these schools identify children they think would benefit most from the program.

Why don’t you offer it to children at other schools?
Word-Play is a volunteer-run organization and we do not yet have the funds or capacity to increase the number of participating schools. As we grow, we hope to increase the number of schools and children who can take part. Watch here or sign up for our e-newsletter (above) for information about new programs.

Where does the funding for your free programs come from?
A range of fundraising initiatives, grants and generous private donors have made it possible for Word-Play to operate since the fall of 2006.

How can I or my organization make a financial contribution to Word-Play? Do you offer tax receipts?
Word-Play is a non-profit organization and relies on the generosity of our donors.

Do you accept any in-kind donations?
We would be glad to accept donations of unused age-appropriate children’s books from publishers. Click here for a list of publishers who have already donated to our book collection. We are also able to accept in-kind donations of food vouchers and new office supplies (pens, markers, pencils, erasers, scissors, etc.).

Can I volunteer at Word-Play?
Volunteers are essential to the success of Word-Play. There are many jobs that need to be done, including fundraising, events, committee and board of directors work. We also have a limited number of positions working in our after-school programs for volunteers who have completed a Vulnerable Persons Police Check. Send us an email for more information about how to get involved.

I’m a writer/teacher/book lover and I have an idea for a workshop. Who do I pitch it to?
We love to hear new ideas for workshops—and so do the kids in the Word-Play programs! But before you spend time writing a proposal, please email us to see if we have any space for new workshops at this time.

I’d like to hear more about Word-Play. How can I follow what you’re doing?
Watch this site for news or sign up for our e-newsletter (above).

I still have questions—who do I contact to find out more?
Thanks for your interest in Word-Play. Feel free to drop us a line by email.