Monday, April 18, 2011

Summer Reading Programs --- One World, Many Stories, One Awesome Summer

What makes summer reading programs fun and exciting for everyone involved is the anticipation for what this summer will bring. The themes pave way for creative juices to flow out of the imaginations of librarians and into the hearts of young readers. Without a doubt there is a magic that cannot be duplicated any other time of the year. Any library can have a successful summer program, but it takes a "superhero" librarian to make it extra special. Here are a few tips to make the summer program a smash hit and make your director delighted.

Planning is everything. If there isn't a good plan, there is no fun. The best way to plan programs in the youth services area is to have a little bit of something for everyone. For example, plan on two programs for each age level and one program that is for the entire family. The age levels can be separated into four reading levels: Baby/Toddler, Preschool through Kindergarten, Independent Readers and Tweens/Teens. If the library has the time and money, which are both nice luxuries these days, splitting the tweens and teens is not a bad route to follow. The program for the entire family is typically the finale of the summer. Sprinkled in with the programs are various activities that will keep the children coming all summer long.

This year's theme offers a wonderful opportunity to explore different cultures. The ideas for programming and activities are endless. Having said that, librarians should not go it alone when planning every program. If money is available, hire someone to do one or two programs for you. One such group to consider is The Wild Swan Theater in Ann Arbor, Michigan. This is a group of fine actors who occasionally travel to libraries to do live performances. These talented actors first began their company with performances in Sign Language. However, they have started to perform plays in Spanish and English. It is a treat to hear a play in both languages and along the way the audience can't help but learn a few words here and there. They are energetic and entertaining to say the least.

If money is an issue, and for some libraries it is, consider asking your teens to do a reader's theater for the youngsters that come to the library. This is a perfect way to get teens involved and get "cheap" actors to perform. If done right, children and parents will enjoy watching the teens hone their acting skills. It is one of the win-win scenario that gets everyone into a festive, community feeling.

Once the programs are in place, the next step is advertising. Patrons who have come out for last year's summer program will be ready to return for another two months of fun. Invite them back and ask them to bring a friend or two. Attach an incentive for them to do so, like winning a free book or receive a bookmark. Also, reaching out to the local schools, government departments and businesses is key to finding new "readers' for the program. It's not a bad idea to ask local dignitaries to do a PSA to record on the city's cable stations announcing how they love their libraries and love summer reading programs.

The various activities for children to participate in can range from a picture scavenger hunt to reading records to complete in order to qualify for grand prizes at the end of summer. Reading records can be as simple as having a child write down the books they have read or glitzy with a maze for the readers to follow to the end by coloring each box for every time they read a book for 20 minutes per day. The more the child reads the more chances they have in winning the grand prize. One of the best things to do for these readers, is to provide them with a reader's advisory list of books that highlight the summer's theme.

This is just the beginning of a successful reading program. There is still so much more to share. Throughout the next couple of weeks, ideas for this year will be presented. Feel free to use them, share them and comment back on how they worked at your library. This summer's program will be a trip to remember. Hm... could be that a vacation won't be necessary, the stories will carry our readers to where ever their little hearts desire.
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