All schools, public, private and homeschool, are getting back into the day to day schedule of classes. While children might be dreading the routine of classes, reading and homework, parents are welcoming the fall and going back to the grind. For the summer, libraries have been the fun reading places with programs that kept children busy. The Fall, should be no different. The purpose of summer reading programs is to help children maintain their reading skills during the summer so that they are ready to return to school in the fall. If librarians stop with just summer reading program and offer no assistance for the children's trek back to school, then its just as if the library posted a sign saying "Thanks for the memories. See You Next Summer!" That would be a crying shame! What can a librarian do to get involved in the Back to School Activities? Plenty and it doesn't have to take much planning or money.
School supplies are a huge concern for parents, especially in hard economic times. Notebooks, pencils, rulers, calculators and backpacks quickly add up to big bucks. With this in mind, why not host a "School Supply day" where families can come in to pick up needed supplies at the library for free. The funds needed to provide these supplies can come from friends group, donations from local businesses, and donations from patrons. It's a terrific community outreach opportunity because it reminds the community that helping neighbors not only does the heart good but builds stronger ties to the city.
Mothers are always worried about if their children are eating properly. It can be a struggle to keep their children from choosing the right food to not trading their apples for their friends cookies. Bringing in a nutritionist for a program on helping parents and children eat wisely is a terrific way to help solve this problem. Local hospitals or healthcare centers will often offer these programs without costs to the library as a way to promote healthier community. If there isn't the time or room to hold a program. Why not offer a drop in recipe exchange for patrons? Put out the call for unique lunch box recipes to all patrons. Choose an area in the library where patrons can drop off twenty copies of their child's favorite lunches. Place all recipes on the table for people to pick up one or two that they want to try. To tie it all in, place some of the library's cookbooks on display to provide even more ideas for great lunches.
Children should be encouraged to read for pleasure throughout the year. A library card is a wonderful "free" back to school gift for children of all ages. Once a child has a library card, another great way to encourage reading for pleasure (also, a great way to clean out bedrooms) is to host an old fashioned book swap. The books donated at this event should be clean and in good condition. Every level of reading should be covered, from beginners to adult, because EVERYONE in the family should be reading. Invite patrons to donate a book and pick out a another book or themselves. It is great fun and the conversations about the books will be endless.
Tweens and teens like to explore their individuality and a wonderful way to give them an outlet for that creativity is with a Back To School Craft Night. Provide a variety of crafts for the tweens/teens choose from like beaded pins that they can put on their backpacks. Mirror magnets are perfect for lockers and with craft foam, fake gems, a hot glue gun, an evening of fun is ready to begin. For guys' lockers, let them create their own magnets with their favorite quote or picture.
One thing that is universal about all kids is that they want to look "cool" and not stick out like a sore thumb. Host a what's hot and what's not night in fashion where fashion experts (you can find them at the mall in major department stores) and even hair stylist to give advice on how to look great on the first day of school. After the program remind your patrons that the latest beauty/teen magazine is available as well as other books on beauty tips.
These are just a few ideas of how to engage the community in unique yet affordable ways as the students make the trek back to school. The old tried and true annotated book list about returning to school is great but those lists will not keep the patrons coming back for more. These programs are geared to not only lure them back but to build a positive relationship with the community. What library would want to put up the sign: 'Thanks for Coming! See you next summer"? The better sign that every library would love to put up is "Come Again, and again and again!"