Blogger Early Childhood Programs and Services committee

Summer Reading: Not just for big kids

As blustery, rainy, and overcast as these days may be, we children’s librarians know that it’s time for… SUMMER! Well, at least planning for our summer programming for children.

We joke in our office that “it’s always summer” – the meetings to plan the best reading and learning experiences for our service communities, the shopping for prizes, the constant tinkering, refining and perfecting of text and graphic design for our promotional materials, the tweaking of budget, staffing, and programming considerations. Ah, summer…

As a member of the ALSC Early Childhood Programs and Services Committee, I want to take a moment to talk about summer programming for young children. While we know that school-age children are at risk of falling behind in their reading levels from the end of one school year to the beginning of the next, we should also ask ourselves what we can do for our babies, toddlers, and preschoolers to push forward their literacy skills and to encourage them to develop and grow their love of reading.

Picture courtesy of Brooke Newberry

At the Free Library of Philadelphia, we have over the past few years included a special track for younger children in our Summer of Wonder program. Summer of Wonder focuses not just on reading over the summer but offers children experience-based learning opportunities. Our preschool track, aimed at children birth through five, is informed by Every Child Ready to Read, with lots of activities centered on reading, writing, talking, playing and singing. For example, young children can build a structure, talk about textures, or go on a shape scavenger hunt to work towards prizes.

We no longer offer cheaply made prizes since the return on this was simply not great – why not use our incentives to further promote reading? Prizes offered range from a book of the child’s choice, logo prizes such as lanyards or coin purses (which perfectly fit a library card!), passes to local museums, and chances to enter branch-based raffles to win special prizes. We make sure our logo prizes are non-toxic and safe for young children, and that we send out lots of board and picture books to our branches to offer their young summer readers.

Of course, summer programming in our 50-plus locations varies widely for young children. We offer toddler yoga, dance parties, fabulous storytimes, sensory programming for children with autism, bilingual programs, wooden block parties, and so on. Our librarians are amazing!

This year we are reinventing our Summer of Wonder format from a bingo card to a passport with several Discovery Paths in which children can complete fun activities to get a badge (aka sticker) on their passport. And as an extra treat, we are working with Philly’s own superstar illustrator Greg Pizzoli to create our original Summer of Wonder artwork!

But before all this becomes a reality, we have our meetings, we shop for our prizes and we create all the materials, because… it’s always summer for children’s librarians!

What do YOU offer for young children in your summer programming? Share your ideas in the comments below.

Sarah Stippich is the Early Literacy Coordinator at the Free Library of Philadelphia and is writing this post for the Early Childhood Programs and Services Committee.

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