Blogger Jonathan Dolce

19 Positive Summer Reading Activities During COVID

chalk board with words what's your story


If COVID has taught me anything, it is to keep in mind the one-word slogan of Navy SEALS: Adapt. We are public librarians. We adapt. We adapted during the digital age to maintain our relevance. COVID is not going to stop us. Irrespective of where you are right now, summer reading has boiled down to three options: passive, curbside or virtual. We remain in the unique position of being able to touch the lives and hearts of our community. We have a responsibility to remain positive, and to disseminate hope. Read on to see how 19 positive summer reading activities during COVID can make the difference.

1 – Radio

I’ll never forget growing up the impact just one radio station had on my hometown. The station was 45 minutes away by car, but everyone in my school knew it; always had it on. You couldn’t see the DJs, but their voices were a comfort and were as familiar to us as family. What we can leverage from this is simple: you broadcast yourself. Sure, you’ve gone online in your programming. But where the magic comes in is this: the radio contest. “Be caller #1 and win the prize!” Imagine you’re doing an online storytime and you say, hey, be caller #1 and win a prize. Winning patron calls in and picks up their prize curbside. Boom. You just made their day.

2 – Combos

Okay, I’m showing my age again. I remember when Combos came out. You know, that pretzel roll with fake cheese in the middle? I’ve developed what I call programming “combos” or combining the three types of COVID summer reading programming ideas. Sing along, you know the words: passive, curbside, virtual. Just as with #1, Radio, consider combining two or more programming concepts. Example: online storytime. Combine this with passive or curbside by telling viewers, hey, we’ve got a storywalk all set up for you around the outside of our library, or a chalk obstacle course.

Add even more depth by having a prize involved with that outdoor passive program. Example: The Golden Goose. Have a storywalk combined with an egg hunt. No, not an Easter egg hunt. A golden egg hunt! Storywalk a story including the goose that laid the golden egg with an egg hunt. Have multicolored eggs with mini prizes in them, but the golden one has, say, money or a gift certificate in it.

So, let’s review: read a story online including the Golden Goose. Have a chalk obstacle course with story-line. Then have an egg hunt including the golden egg. Nice combo!

3 – Online Outreach

Yes, virtual programming is online outreach. But if you have the email addresses of your patrons with children, you can keep in touch with newsletters designed not just for kids, but parents, too. What are you going to offer? All kinds! Here’s a few ideas:

4 – Scavenger Hunt

Two options for a scavenger hunt – virtual or on your library grounds

  • Virtual: have patrons utilize your online resources to answer a weekly question. Winning answers via email get a prize they can pick up curbside. Got an active Friends group? Ask them for a digital gift card you can email to your patrons as summer reading prizes!
  • Library grounds: Kids love finding surprises in even the most simple of settings. From their backyard to the beach, the living room to a road trip, you can count on a scavenger hunt to help pass the time. These are the best places to have a scavenger hunt, here are free printables for indoor scavenger hunts, and these printables are perfect for your next hike, whether it’s on your library grounds or around the block!

5 – Sidewalk Chalk

Take your sidewalk chalk obstacle courses to the next-level with these creative ways to have fun with sidewalk chalk. For more inspiration, check out these street chalk art creations that will blow you away.

6 – Online Outdoor Programming

Online outdoor programming is when you do a virtual program either inside or outside demonstrating things families can do, ideally outdoors. Example: Outdoor Science Experiments. Let’s face it, it’s the best time of the year to set up a science experiment in the driveway and let your geniuses fizz, splat and bubble their way to serious fun with these easy science experiments that don’t require a lab. For the mother lode of ideas—complete with a messiness meter on each one—check out these 42 science experiments.

7 – Astronomy Club

A virtual astronomy club is a super-easy way to (a) stay in touch with interested families and (b) offer family activities that can be done at home using online resources that are at the library’s website. Check out these tips on staying up late to stargaze, with suggestions on when to go, what to look for, what to read up on, and how to make it a masterful memory. Also, if you’re staying up late, you should check out these games that are perfect for filling the twilight hours.

8 – Take a Hike!

Tell your patrons to take a hike! There are plenty of spots to stop, take in the view or just plain explore. Check out our favorite hiking spots around the country to get inspired, and if one of these spots isn’t close to you, here are ways to hike in your own neighborhood. If you’ve got an infant in tow, check with these tips.

9 – Demo Pool Games

My next online program will include demo pool games. Yes, I’m going to stand in a kiddie pool in the library and demo pool games. The best pool games don’t require a whole lot, which is why these are some of our favorites (and many of these don’t require any touching or close contact).

10 – More Outdoor Obstacles Courses

More outdoor obstacle courses come to mind that don’t even take place at the library. Instead of hosting them at the library, demo how to build them using online programming. There are many benefits to this, most obviously, social distancing. Kids are of course natural ninjas, so these easy outdoor obstacle courses are perfect for just about any backyard. With each child starting and completing a round on his or her own, you can avoid bottlenecks and maintain good social distancing.

11 – Backyard Games

I can’t wait to demo these online. Have fun demo-ing this amazing arsenal of classic and inventive backyard games for kids. Many of them take almost no props or planning, and most of these games are well suited to siblings and encourage parents to get in on the fun. The best part? A few can probably be played respecting social distancing rules with a little ingenuity. For those really hot days, you’ll find plenty of splashy inspiration and ideas to help you transform your backyard into a water park here.

55 Free or Cheap Ideas for Inventive Backyard Play

6 Epic Summer Backyard Hacks the Kids Will Love

12 – Biking

I don’t know about you, but I love all the new bike trails that have sprung up nationwide. Rails to Trails has some amazing resources for discovering these trails. No doubt, your town has some trails, too. How about putting the tire to the pavement and have a co-worker video you on the trail? Bike riding is a perfect social distancing activity. If your little doesn’t know how to ride a bike yet, we’ve got tips and tricks from experts here.

13 – How-To from Home

Your online programming line-up has got to include not just crafts, but how-to from home. This means, showing people of all ages what they can accomplish at home with a little direction. Examples:

How re-connect after making our homemade treasures is critical. Patrons should be encouraged to work on the project together via video conferencing if possible so they can ask questions, share tips, and encourage each other in a virtual makerspace!

14 – Social Justice

Learn more about the challenges of parolees, immigration, homelessness and other social issues by watching a documentary. After viewing the film, guide patrons on how they can support the cause through letter-writing campaigns, spreading the word about the issue on social media, or even hosting their own online screening.

15 – Local History

Local history programming can easily go online: ask a local historian to give a presentation on how significant events, such as women’s suffrage, the civil rights movement, or the Vietnam War, affected your area. Then share a playlist of videos on the topic with your patrons so they can learn more about the role your community played during these historic moments.

 A) Historical Societies & Preservation Organizations
This directory lists over 4,500 preservation organizations, historical societies and programs dedicated to historic preservation and cultural resource preservation in the United States and Canada.
• B) State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO)
The State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) administers programs and services specific to their particular State including the National Register of Historic Places programs (administered through each SHPO), as well as, but not limited to, tax incentives, easements, grants, technical assistance, Section 106 review, and education programs. This directory lists SHPO offices for each State in the US.
• C) Tribal Historic Preservation Offices
Tribal Historic Preservation Officers have the responsibilities of SHPOs on tribal lands and advise and work with federal agencies on the management of tribal historic properties. Responsibilities include conducting archeological and cultural resource surveys, maintaining permanent inventories of historic and cultural properties, nominating properties to the National Register, and reviewing Federal Agency undertakings pursuant to Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act.
• D) Certified Local Government Commissions
Certified Local Government Commissions include City / County Historic Preservation Offices, Landmark Commissions, Economic Development Offices and other government offices and commissions charged with identifying and designating city/county landmarks, as well as regulating changes to designated buildings.
• E) Downtown and Main Street Revitalization Organizations
Over 1,100 organizations and programs dedicated to the preservation and promotion of downtowns, main streets, and community planning as an essential part of a sustainable society are currently listed in our comprehensive directory.

16 – Read the Book, Watch the Movie

Even during the summer of COVID, we can still read the book, watch the movie. Adaptations are not going anywhere and neither are we, apparently. How to leverage this: patrons read an eBook, watch the movie adaptation together, then conclude with the age-old discussion: “Which was better: the book or the movie?” (even though we all know it was the book)

17 – Start From Scratch

So, if you’ve made it this far and are still uncertain, or just plain skeptical, start from scratch. Please your higher ups by using your online resources as a jumping off point. Want to learn more about how public libraries can bring valuable resources to the community in their homes? Watch this 30-minute demonstration detailing how Infobase resources are able to address the diverse needs of the library community, wherever they might be.

18 – Puppets

I’m addicted to puppets. I need a bumper sticker that says, “He who dies with the most puppets wins”. Puppetry can help hide the pill for math, reading, and science concepts through music, and nursery rhymes – no, really! Michelee Puppets has some great jumping off points for this.

19 – Imagine Your Story

Imagine your story in our profession also means sharing. Please share your success stories. Even if we don’t get around to them this summer, we’ll celebrate your successes with you and laugh with/at you when you fall down.

Stay classy and thanks for stopping by!


  1. Dorinda L. Montgomery

    I love these ideas. I am going to use these ideas for our SRP Tails and Tales.
    Also will share with at our children’s meeting.
    Dorinda L .Montgomery

  2. Jonathan Dolce

    Fantastic! Glad we could help inspire you!

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