Categories: Feature Story
      Date: May 24, 2012
     Title: Ready, Set, Read!

Local libraries combat the summer slide with fun and incentives

By Tammy DiDomenico

As classroom instruction winds down for the summer, local libraries are gearing up for an uptick in activity. Combining fun activities and literary awareness, libraries often become busy, multifaceted community centers during the summer months.



As classroom instruction winds down for the summer, local libraries are gearing up for an uptick in activity. Combining fun activities and literary awareness, libraries often become busy, multifaceted community centers during the summer months.

“Many libraries have summer programs, book clubs, and even literacy tutoring available,” says Kathleen Hinchman, Ph.D., of the Reading and Language Arts Center at Syracuse University’s School of Education. “It’s important for families to make regular time this summer to take children to the local library. It will be time well spent.”

Teachers often encourage participation in the summer reading programs as one way to help reduce the so-called summer slide in reading achievement. That loss has been well documented since the early 1980s. Studies have found that students can lose up to two months of reading achievement during the summer.

Hinchman knows firsthand how important it is to keep children reading during the summer: She directs a summer literacy clinic that provides one-on-one tutoring and group instruction to children who need support in developing strong reading skills.

“Our community’s libraries are one of the most (important) literacy supports our community has to offer,” Hinchman says. “Each has its own personality, and all have collections that cause me to rave to my classes. I’ve had direct experience with many children’s librarians who offer help with age-appropriate book selection and choosing books that are in keeping with the new Common Core NYS ELA Learning Standards, and ideas about how hard a text might be for a particular young person to read. A parent may ask, ‘Can I get a book that’s about as hard as Monster, by Walter Dean Myers?’”

Central New York libraries, like those across the state and around the country, depend on support from the Collaborative Summer Library Program (CSLP, a national consortium of libraries), which comes up with a theme every year to help parents and librarians focus reading choices for children and teens. This year’s children’s theme is “Dream Big: Read,” while the teen theme is “Own the Night.” The eight-week program will run from June 25 through August 17.

Amanda Travis, member library liaison for the Onondaga County Public Library, says a lot of preparation goes into the summer programming at area libraries. “All (31 locations) have wonderful programs planned around the theme to keep children and teens reading throughout the summer. And, thanks to a grant from New York state, all the libraries will have animals visit their libraries from the Rosamond Gifford Zoo’s Zoo to You program. Also, the Museum of Science and Technology will present a Traveling Science program all about astronomy and nocturnal animals.”

Travis keeps track of what the individual branches are doing to support the theme. “The Fayetteville Free Library is offering several fun programs for preschoolers. They’re doing a Moon and Stars story time and a Stuffed Animal Sleepover where children bring in an animal and pick it up the next day,” she says. “The librarian shares pictures with the child of all the mischief the animals got into being in the library overnight.”

“Kids will get the chance to camp out at some of the libraries this summer (not overnight, of course),” Travis adds. “There will be crafts, scary stories and s‘mores.”

“The summer reading program is not just for the little ones,” she adds. “The Salina Free Library is offering some great programs for teens. They will get to build their own flashlight using kits, and learn about cool nighttime games they can play with their flashlights. CNY Ghost Hunters will be giving a presentation to the teens and Science Inc. will be bringing in an inflatable planetarium.”

Library programmers say the themes are helpful for planning—offering structure without being rigid. “We like to change things up from year to year, but the  umbrella theme gives us ideas to work with,” says Joanne Trask, children’s librarian at the White Branch Library in Syracuse.

The CSLP issues a manual for the reading program, which Trask says is very helpful. She adds that while some libraries implement the theme in obvious ways— tying in story hours and craft projects—others just use it as inspiration. Regardless, Trask says the goal is the same—getting kids in the door and keeping them interested—and reading. This year’s programming at the White Branch will include perennial favorites like the Bubble Man (Liverpool’s Doug Rougeux) and Moreland the Magician (Ithaca’s David Moreland).

“We want them to enjoy coming here,” Trask says.

A study published in 2010 in the journal Reading Psychology indicated reading setbacks occur more often in poor neighborhoods, where children have less access to libraries, support programs or even books. Renate Dunsmore, White Branch manager, says the summer programming brings out the community spirit of the librarians and patrons.

“There are kids in this community who need support with their reading skills,” she says. “So, our librarians give a lot of one-to-one support. They really get to know the children in this community. I think the parents really see this as a place where they can come with their children and spend quality time.”

Last year, parents enjoyed using the branch’s new computer software, which targeted early reading skills. “We saw lots of parent/child activity with that software,” Dunsmore recalls. “I think the kids knew more about how to use the computers, so the parents were learning, too!”

Some libraries use the CSLP theme to discuss more serious issues. Dan Golden, assistant director and teen librarian at Onondaga Free Library, will use the “Own the Night” theme to get teens talking about safety, and making smart decisions when they are out after dark.

“He’s taking the theme into a different direction,” says Susan Morgan, director of the Onondaga Free Library. “We try to use the themes when it’s appropriate for what we think the kids need.”

Morgan says the staff likes to be creative with summer programming. Author visits are often held during the summer, and activities like Lego Night—during which children come in to build on the library’s Lego Wall—draw crowds.

Feedback from patrons is important. A web-based reading log has been a winner for the library. “The kids love going online and logging their books, tracking their progress,” Morgan says. “That’s been huge.”

Books that have a connection to the summer theme are gathered and placed in a display area so children can find them easily. Morgan says if children are busy or just a little slow in starting their reading logs, no worries. They can come in at any point during the program and start reading.

Holly Hart, children’s librarian at Onondaga Free Library, says that the story hours for children 2 and up, held on Wednesdays and Thursdays at 11 a.m., will use the theme. “We’ll incorporate books on dreams, things that go bump in the night, things like that,” she says with a chuckle.

Reading program participants enter their names into a raffle whenever they come in to report progress on their reading log. Hart says kids enjoy working toward a goal. The winners receive small prizes like movie passes or discounts at local eateries.

When the participants track their progress online, even reluctant readers can get caught up in the excitement, Hart says. “After they complete five books, they see a message that says they can come in and get their incentive prize. For some kids, that’s all it takes. ‘Free ice cream? I can read five books!’”

The summer reading program helps prove how relevant public libraries are, Morgan says. “We have seen some children improve their reading skills as the summer goes on,” she says. “And the fact that parents get involved is great. We just want to get kids in touch with the concept that we’re reading for fun. Programs like this build the bridge to lifelong learning.”

Hart agrees. “All the statistics I’ve seen on this issue say that kids who read during the summer retain more of the reading skills they built during the school year.”

Many branches start the summer reading program off with a launch party. Jennifer Burke, children’s librarian at the DeWitt Community Library, says it’s a great way to put a positive spin on the idea of devoting some of those long days of summer to hitting the books. “We really try to get the kids excited,” she says.

In DeWitt, the participants come in once a week and meet with a librarian to discuss the books they have read. “We stress to parents that if you’re reading to your child, that counts. Audio books and magazines count, too.”

Burke has been with the library for four years and says enrollment has been hovering around 300. Two years ago, she implemented an incentive. If the kids, all together, read 5,000 books or more, they can choose a “dare” for her to fulfill. Last year, she dyed her hair because they surpassed the 5,000 mark.

Burke says new attractions this year will include Gravitational Bull—a father/son juggling team from Buffalo—and Story Laurie—a folksinger-storyteller from the Catskill region.

Even with 300-plus children in and out of the DeWitt library during the summer, Burke says the reading program enables her to connect with some of the more reluctant readers in the community. “I can see what books they are interested in and help point them in a direction that is going to keep them interested. For the boys, they tend to love anything ‘extreme’: extreme sports, even extreme weather.”

But perhaps the best thing about the summer programming at the branch libraries is that there is something for every reading level, and every level of participation.

Stephanie Harley, of Jamesville, has four children: Stuart, 15; Emilie, 13; Thomas, 10; and Gregory, 8. They all learned at an early age how important reading, and their local public library, is. She likes that parents can use the activities during the summer as little or as often as they like.

“The guest speakers and the fun activities—there’s always something going on that’s interesting,” Harley says. “One year, they had a performance with a didgeridoo (an instrument played by aboriginal Australians); the kids loved that. And (magician) David Moreland was phenomenal.”

Harley says, “I’ve always told my children, they can do anything if they read. What I really love about the summer reading program is that it encourages people to come in and grab a book.”

Harley says the fact that the librarians encourage children to read whatever they want during the summer inevitably helps them build confidence that will last long after summer fades. “As long as they’re enjoying what they are reading, (the program) helps them gain confidence in reading,” she says.

Kelly Rodoski, mother of 7-year-old Maddie, is a fan of the summer programming at the Liverpool Public Library. Maddie, a first-grader at Allen Road Elementary School in North Syracuse, has participated in the reading program for the past several years and will again this summer.

“We take advantage of as much of the (programming) as we can. I do think the reading contest is helpful,” Rodoski says. “We read together every night, but I think the contest just gives kids that extra push during the summer. It’s just another push to help her be an independent reader.”

At the Liverpool Public Library, the summer reading participants track their progress on a bulletin board. “Maddie also sees her friends, other kids she knows, at the library getting books during the summer, and that gets her excited,” Rodoski adds.

Rodoski says the reading log is also a good tool for keeping kids interested. “(Maddie) loves the reading log because it’s something that’s hers. She’s proud of herself when she does it.”

As at the DeWitt Community Library, participants in Liverpool are required to discuss their books with the staff librarians. “That helped Maddie with her social skills because she had to talk to people she didn’t know that well. It’s been a good experience all the way around.”

Rodoski says the summer reading program is a great motivator for parents, as well as children. “In the summer, we all tend to drift away from our routines. This helps parents stay on track too,” she says. “Kids need to realize that you can’t take a vacation from reading. It’s such an important skill and you constantly have to be building it.”             

Award-winning writer Tammy DiDomenico lives in DeWitt with her husband and two sons.

Photos above: Michael Davis Photos
Top: Joanne Trask, White Branch children’s librarian.
Below: Kelly Rodoski (at Liverpool Public Library with her daughter, Maddie)

 

LIBRARY TRICKSTER

Ithaca’s David Moreland, a.k.a. Moreland the Magician, will be performing at 18 Central New York libraries this summer. He has been bringing his 45-minute show to the area libraries for the past eight years and enjoys the challenge of infusing his act with literacy themes.

Moreland became interested in magic as a kid, then caught the acting bug and enjoyed a lengthy career as a stage and television actor on shows including Friends, Seinfeld and Curb Your Enthusiasm. He settled in Ithaca 10 years ago and has been performing at libraries, schools and parties in recent years.

With the libraries, Moreland thinks of himself as a collaborator. He enjoys working the CSLP themes into his shows, and he encourages children to attend other events happening at that branch. (Spoiler alert: In upcoming shows, Moreland promises to share a trick that kids can do with their library cards. He also plans to work a skit based on Arielle North Olson’s The Lighthouse Keeper’s Daughter into his summer shows.)

“I think of my summer shows as a silly, entertaining, 45-minute commercial for anything that’s going on in the library,” Moreland, father of two daughters, 10 and 13, says. “During every show I tell the kids that I would like them to pick three books that they want to read.”

Moreland has performed at every branch in the OCPL system and knows what the libraries mean to local communities. “It’s a great gig, but it’s not just a gig,” he says. “It’s nothing I have to fake. I loved the public library as a kid. It was about a mile from where I lived and I can still picture where everything is.” He adds that much of his early exposure to magic tricks came from studying books in the public library.

Moreland has about 18 different routines he can use interchangeably. “I’ve done it so long now and have strong improvisational skills, so I can handle pretty much anything the kids throw at me,” he says with a laugh. “(These shows) work on a few different levels, so kids enjoy them, but the adults will enjoy them, too.”