By Stacy Turner
When my kids were younger, I worried a great deal about summer slide -- that dreaded affliction where all the learning they accomplished during the hectic school year would drain from their heads as they spend time at the local pool, playground, ice cream shop, or family campout. So I did my best to keep them learning, despite the groans and complaints. I would try to promote brainteaser card games as fun activities in the car. I’d hear things like, “Really, mom?” coupled with Olympic-worthy eye rolling. I’d force them to spend time each week on math worksheets, which they often treated like a sentence to death row. Once, I had them work on their writing by giving them travel journals on a family road trip. We were only about 100 miles in when I happened to glance at what my youngest was feverishly writing -- variations on ‘poop’, ‘butt’, and every similar word her colorful, second-grade vocabulary could muster.
Luckily, the one thing they didn’t mind participating in was the local library’s summer reading program. I think it was because they did it every year with a neighborhood friend perfectly aged one year younger than my oldest and one year older than my youngest, so everyone got along well. Each week for a month-and-a-half of summer, the three girls had a set time each week to picnic and run around and holler like banshees at the playground before heading to a special program at the library.
Every week, they enjoyed fun activities like magic shows, bubble extravaganzas, or meeting artists or authors, all of which promoted reading in a fun way. At the end of the program, we’d find books to read, audiobooks for road trips, and movies for pizza night for the coming week. As an added incentive, the kids would win prizes for the number of minutes or books read, and enjoy a picnic and carnival at the end of the program. They didn’t always buy into the sometimes-corny themes, but they had lots of fun and spent valuable time reading (and secretly learning) over the summer, so this particular devious parenting plan worked out.
So much so, that when the girls were too old for the program, we tried to create our own summer reading book club, where the girls picked a book to read and discuss. We still met to picnic at the playground, and we added in some craft activities related to the book they chose. While we all still had fun getting together and the plan worked better than the ill-fated travel journal, it just wasn’t the same as the program we all came to love. God bless that special library and the rock star children’s librarian for pulling it together and making it appear so effortless.
Luckily, the girls are now old enough to participate in the same summer reading program they grew up loving -- this time as helpers, helping to create some of the magic for other kids. Each week of the program, we still meet to picnic at the park. But this year, they head over to the library early to assist their favorite librarian set up the week’s special kids program. They help the special guests prepare for their performances, set up tables with reading logs, draw winners names for prize drawings, or help restore the library to order when the programs end.
Afterwards, they giggle about the kid who crawled under his chair and got stuck during the preschool program, or the too-cool kid who shouted “OMG!” when his dad was cut in half as a part of the magic show, but magically restored to his full, unharmed height afterwards. And each week they still grab books to read or listen to, and movies to watch before next week’s program, all while wearing their special “Libraries Rock” t-shirts. So take that, summer slide!