October 22, 2021

Summer reading programs keep kids sharp

Bridging the gap

Joe McIntyre/staff photographer

Ethan Rafferty, 5, left, and his sister Sandra, 3, of Cortland, pick out books to read at the Cortland Free Library on Friday. The state Education Department has found an increase in the number of children participating in summer reading programs, although the figures for Cortland County are mixed.

The state Education Department is hailing an increase in the number of kids taking part in summer reading programs, but local librarians say more important than the numbers is the fact kids are reading.

Statewide, about 94,000 more kids participated in summer reading programs this year over last summer, according to the state Education Department.

Cortland Free Library Director Jacie Spoon said high participation in 2016 skewed this year’s numbers, but 250 kids still registered and pulled a book or 10 from the shelves. In 2016, Skaneateles author and former professional football player Tim Green came to town, spiking interest in that year’s summer reading program to 286 kids.

At Phillips Free Library in Homer, Director Priscilla Berggren-Thomas said the numbers themselves are not always an accurate representation of participation but thanks to new punch card system more kids turned in proof they read this year. At Homer this year, 108 children, 34 teens and 24 adults signed up for summer reading.

Berggren-Thomas said this was down slightly from past years, but because of a popular new punch card system that gave prizes after a certain number of punches, more children actually had turned in proof they read at the end of the program.

Before this, a common problem was that children may sign up to participate and do the reading, but never turn in their reading logs, she said. Or they may sign up and never participate, she said.

“Sometimes it’s hard to keep track of that so we’re always looking for good ways of reaching as many kids and finding good ways of measuring how much they’re actually reading and learning for the summer,” Berggren-Thomas said.

This year was the 25th anniversary of the State Library summer reading program, an initiative in which the State Library partners with 756 public libraries and 311 neighborhood branches.

State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia called for partnerships between libraries and schools.

“I also encourage libraries to partner with schools and community organizations to promote the importance of summer reading and this vital program,” Elia said earlier this month. “By collaborating with other educational and community organizations, we can increase participation and improve children’s reading skills.”

Those partnerships are informal, local librarians say. Spoon and Berggren-Thomas said they provide information to their school districts about the summer reading programs, but Berggren-Thomas said a partnership over the summer is tricky. School isn’t in session, complicating the logistics of tracking students to see if they read a particular book.

“I’m really open to ideas,” she said. “It’s just finding what’s going on at the school and ways we can do that together.”

With summer reading programs funded by grants, the grantor looks for evidence of the program’s results. That is why it would be important to track down a student through the school, she said.

Partnership or not, the summer reading is crucial to keeping young brains sharp, librarians said.

“Kids, if they’re not reading through the summer, if they are not participating, they’re not ready for school come September,” Spoon said.

Tips to foster a book lover

Here is advice from the federal Department of Education on how to encourage reading in a child:

• Read with a child every day.

• When reading a book with large print, point to each word so the child learns that the print corresponds to a word.

• Read a child’s favorite book over and over again.

• Read many stories with rhyming words and lines that repeat. Invite the child to join in on these parts.

• Discuss new words. For example, “This big house is called a palace. Who do you think lives in a palace?”

• Stop and ask about the pictures and about what is happening in the story.

• Read from a variety of books, including fairy tales, song books, poems and information books.

• Talk to your infants and toddlers to help them learn to speak and understand the meaning of words. Point to objects and describe them as you play to help build vocabulary.

• Read to your baby every day starting at 6 months. Hearing words repeatedly helps children become familiar with them.

• Use sounds, songs, gestures and words that rhyme to help your baby learn about language. Babies need to hear language from a human being; television is just noise.

• Point out the printed words in your home and other places you take your child.

• Take children’s books and writing materials with you whenever you leave home to give the child activities to do.

• Create a quiet, special place to read, write and draw. Keep books where kids can easily reach them.

• Read. If you read, your child picks up the habit.