PUTNEY—For kids across Windham County and beyond, the end of the school year doesn’t mean it’s time to put away the books, especially if librarians have any say in the matter.
To prevent the “summer slide,” when some young people forgo reading and other educational pursuits, nearly every public library offers a summer reading challenge.
Some libraries mostly stick to “reading contracts” and lists of recommended books. Some offer hands-on activities one may not expect to find in a library. Some do both.
Nearly all libraries participate in the American Library Association’s (ALA) suggested summer reading program theme — this year it’s “On Your Mark, Get Set... Read!” — which encourages strengthening the brain as well as the rest of the body.
Sports, games, and ice cream in Putney
To connect with the ALA’s theme, Library Director Emily Zervas said, “we’re doing sports and games in here because it’s the Summer Olympics out there!"
Putney’s summer reading celebration lasts for about a month and kicks off with a party on June 29 featuring a family concert by Stephen Coronella, who will play sports-themed songs. It ends with a “make your own sundae” party on August 3, co-sponsored by the Putney Food Co-op and Stratford Organic Dairy.
In addition to the reading logs, where participants can track which books they read during the summer and enter weekly raffles to win prizes, the library has a full array of activities planned.
“We’ll have two events a week,” Zervas said.
Wednesdays are sports and games days, with balloon games, the paper airplane Olympics — which Zervas described as “total fun chaos” — tabletop games, and “field day” games including a gigantic Chutes & Ladders game and sack races.
Zervas said some of the latter are “borrowed from” the Future Collective’s arts and culture fair Future Fest, and its field day, when she and Rolf Parker-Houghton led that event’s games.
On Fridays, the library welcomes special guests who will present interactive activities. Attendees can look forward to martial arts, acrobatics with New England Center for Circus Arts alumnus Bill Forchion, and yoga with Putney Moves’ Veronica Sampson.
Two other events include bicycles: bike safety basics and a family ride with Bonnie Anderson of the Bellows Falls Bike Project, and “make your own smoothies” with the Putney Food Co-op and their bike-powered blenders.
“This is to make healthy snacks actually fun,” Zervas said.
“The point is to keep families coming in every week throughout the summer,” Zervas said, noting her library’s reading contracts are self-assessed and noncompetitive. “We want kids to read more books, but it’s not a race against other kids,” she said.
This year’s program is a pumped-up version of the library’s previous line-up, Zervas said, pointing out she is receiving help this year from Susan Hessey, a retired Windham County school librarian, and Dalia Shevin, an intern studying library science.
Zervas credits her time with the Rockingham Free Public Library (RFPL) as providing much of the inspiration to create a robust summer schedule. She described the RFPL’s program as “major."
The news release notes all events are free, regular attendance isn’t mandatory, and families are invited to come every week or “just drop in when you can."
The summer program is “one of my favorite things of the year,” Zervas said. “We’re really excited. The summer reading [program] is a great time at the library,” she said.
High-energy summer at RFPL
Samantha Maskell, the RFPL’s Youth Services Librarian, told The Commons she has a full schedule of “high-energy, engaging programs” for Rockingham’s youth this summer.
Maskell said the RFPL’s goal is, of course, to keep kids interested in reading, “but our library has become an informal learning place,” offering fun, hands-on programs in art, math, and science during the summer and throughout the school year.
For teens, some summer highlights include a free movie night every Wednesday, a book club, and Friday night tabletop games, including Dungeons & Dragons.
Younger kids, from kindergarteners to middle school age, can participate in a math program called “Summer of Numbers,” supported by the math-focused nonprofit Bedtime Math, Maskell said.
Participants get a blank constellation map and a sheet of stickers. The idea is for the children and their caregivers to solve a story-based math problem at bedtime; for each one they complete, they place a sticker on the map.
At the end of the summer, the kids turn in the map and get a special prize. “It’s all about fun, logical, creative thinking,” Maskell said.
Whereas some schools and libraries focus on “STEM” learning, the RFPL includes art in the science, technology, engineering, and math programs, Maskell said.
Thus, Saturdays are billed as “STEAM” days, where from 11 a.m. until noon, kids of any age can build rockets using film canisters, learn to solder, make marble runs, and learn animation using stop-motion and green-screen technologies.
The activities of the STEAM program “are meant to be messy,” Maskell said. They are also meant to promote experimentation, which includes possibly doing it wrong the first few tries.
“I tell the kids, it’s okay to fail, just keep trying and you’ll learn new things,” she said.
No library? No problem in Marlboro
Marlboro has no public library, so this summer’s reading program is happening at the Elementary School.
Principal Francie Marbury said she hopes townspeople are convinced by the school library opening its doors this summer that the town needs an all-ages public library.
Jess Weitz, who calls herself a “freelance librarian,” is organizing and running the library’s first summer reading challenge with funding from the Marlboro Alliance. “It’s a one-woman show!” she said.
Marlboro’s summer reading program began on June 14, Weitz said, and continues throughout the summer.
Weitz said she was motivated by the school winning a $25,000 grant this year from the Children’s Literary Foundation (CLiF), which, as part of its “Year of the Book,” includes some support for a summer reading program.
A representative from CLiF will visit the library on July 19 to read to the children and give each of them two free books.
Other than encouraging children to read books, Weitz has other events planned, such as “Messy Summer Fun,” with sidewalk chalk for decorating the ramp leading to the library, “really large bubble wands,” and “a big hodgepodge of tissue paper to make abstract stained glass for the library windows."
Some of the activities promote community connections, such as having locals come in to read their favorite books out loud to the children about such topics as farms, big machines, and woodland animals.
Many of the events will include a crafts table for making things like “sparkly vegetables” out of paper, glitter, and sequins, Weitz said.
To encourage writing and intergenerational friendships, Weitz is offering a local pen-pals program. Children and adults can send postcards to each other throughout the summer — and possibly beyond — and Weitz will provide the postcards and stamps.
“Marlboro almost never has any summer program,” including no public summer camps, Weitz said.
A few times in the last 10 years “they tried to do something” for the kids in town, such as limited school library hours, but there aren’t many organized summer activities for Marlboro’s children, she said.
Feeding minds, and bellies, at Brooks Library
Brattleboro’s public library offers a summer program to feed kids’ minds — and tummies.
Every weekday from noon until 1 p.m., free lunch is served to youth through the Summer Food Service Program, partly sponsored through the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
No registration is required, and “anyone who shows up can [eat]” said Assistant Youth Services Librarian Paige Martin, noting kids “ages zero to 18 can eat for free,” and older guests pay $3.50.
Once the kids are all fueled up with nutritious food, they can participate in the library’s reading events.
Although like most other libraries’ summer reading programs, Brooks’ includes a checklist or “contract” where participants read books, they can also attend library events and “[do] activities in town” to earn points toward prizes, Martin said.
Some of the events include a free Monday movie matinee, Tuesday family fitness activities such as yoga with Cyndy Gray from Brattleboro’s Recreation and Parks Department, martial arts, “parachute-play,” and Zumba.
Martin also noted Robin Morgan from KidsPLAYce will play live music and lead children in singing and dancing.
The “around town” plans are meant to involve the whole family, Martin said, and include a scavenger hunt and a “story walk” around the Retreat trails, where participants “walk through” the reading of books.
“We encourage reading, but we don’t want to discourage kids who are intimidated by books,” she said.