One of our longstanding programs is a weekly Reading Buddies hour, in which students in grade 7 and older are paired with children in grades 1-3 who are struggling with reading. This past year we had a child who did not enjoy reading, and was not a skilled reader. Neither parent was a reader, so the child was not often read to. At first, the child reluctantly sat with his "partner" and listened to stories. As the summer went on, he began to read a few pages, then a book ... and by the end of the summer, he was delighted to read whole books to his new friend. At the same time, his mom saw the books that were used, and saw her son's eagerness, and began checking out books to read to him at home.
An ESL family visits the library frequently. New to the community, last summer the children were ages 3, 6, and 8. They walk over 1½ miles to get us. They attended so many of our programs during the school year and the summer offerings kept them coming back to the library. Communicating with staff and other library patrons improved their English skills - mom too! The Children's Room staff was able to help the two oldest children find books that met their summer reading requirements and they always borrow as many books as they can carry. I would guess that now both of the older children are reading beyond their grade level. The formula is simple - provide programming as added incentive and families have even more of a reason to get to the library.
For the past few years we have asked our summer reading participants to keep track of the days they read. Aaron came in on the first day of summer reading to sign up with the goal of winning the giant stuffed bear we were giving away. To enter to win the stuffed bear, participants had to read or be read to every day (51 days). Aaron, having just finished Kindergarten could read, but preferred to be read to, which often led to Aaron and his mom discussing why he had to continue to read himself even though school was over. Each library visit Aaron had to take a book that he could read to mom, dad, or his older sister. At first Aaron was resistant and tried to avoid his mom's rule, but after a few trips to the beginning reading section with him, to find exactly what he wanted to read, Aaron's resistance was disappearing. Each visit the library staff noticed that Aaron's choices were more independent reading and even included some transitional chapter books.
At the end of the summer Aaron's mom told us that he was reading better than when he left school, and was looking forward to the start of first grade. Aaron, unfortunately did not win the giant stuffed bear, but has already told us we better be ready because he is going to win this summer.
A member of our city's school committee is a regular library patron with three children (one is still a toddler). Her two older children have signed up for summer reading for the past three summers and reported their reading times consistently every week. The mother has mentioned how very helpful our summer reading program is in encouraging her kids to read regularly through the summer, and she has witnessed first-hand how this practice has ensured that her children continue to improve their reading skills between the end of one school year and the beginning of the next. The two siblings have actually turned their summer reading into a bit of a competition, with each child striving to reach the minimum number of weekly minutes (120) and beyond. "It got my children reading more than they would have if it had just been me saying. 'Come on kids, let's read!!!' "
Two summers ago we were lucky enough to find a local therapy dog that could visit the Library once a week. Jack is a beautiful and gentle Golden Retriever. His owner, Jennifer, grew up with teachers in the family and is able to help struggling readers with her patient and gentle manner. Together, they are an awesome team. That first year Karen came in as a late-elementary aged student who was having trouble progressing in her reading. She was reluctant, and had trouble with fluency. She loved Jack, and came every Monday to read to him. By the end of the summer her fluency had increased to a point where reading was not the chore that it had been, and she was truly enjoying the books that she read. I saw her grandmother a number of times during the school year, and she shared with me that reading to Jack during the summer had been the turning point for Karen.
Recently, one of our families shared how we helped their son. He was diagnosed with selective mutism and would only speak to his immediate family. His mother let it be known that the library was a place that he loved to go; they were and still are active library patrons. The boy had been a happy participant in our preschool programs, but would not talk to a librarian or other children.
A component of Every Story Has a Hero summer reading club involved a Bingo Board. Every participant who could read received a Bingo card with different literacy activities in each square. Some of the squares included, "tell a librarian a joke" and "recite and read a poem to a librarian". When a child completed a bingo they would get a raffle ticket to place in the basket of a prize that they would like to win.
Our young friend had just completed first grade and was excited to participate in the older reading program like his sister The day that he came in and whispered a joke to one of the Children's Librarians, was quietly celebrated by his mother and the rest of the staff. By the end of the summer he couldn't wait to tell us a joke or recite a poem. He now communicates regularly with peers and teachers.
Two years ago during the summer we had a young family move to our town from India. Neither mom nor the two daughters spoke English. Only the father had the ability. One of the first places that the family came to was the library. Our library provided the opportunity for children to participate in programming. They were at crafts every Wednesday, at story times, and using our Children's Room. We guided the family in choosing Easy Readers and DVDs for basic language and reading exposure. Librarians helped the father in picture books selection and reinforced the concept of reading aloud to the girls. Information for school registration and preparation for September's school start was provided.
Fast forward two years, both girls speak fluent English as well as their native Hindi. They are entering the 3rd grade and 1st grade this fall. They are heavy library users and participate in many programs as well as the Summer Reading program. Recently the dad spoke to me and said "Remember, just two years ago they couldn't speak English? Look at them now speaking and reading!" It is an honor that our library could provide the support and opportunities for this young family to succeed.
It's hard to pick one story since this happens so often! But in September, a mother came to us after the end of the program in order to thank us. Her child was a struggling reader, exiting 2nd grade in June. Our lively Summer Reading Promotion visit to his school, the lure of fun programs and the opportunity to win various incentive prizes motivated him to register for the program (along with his teacher's and mother's encouragement). Given the freedom to read what he chose and the freedom from fear of being tested on reading comprehension, etc., he could truly read for "pleasure". His pleasure grew as he became more and more engaged and entertained by what he read. He read even more and proudly earned prizes ... but an even bigger prize was that his decoding skills and fluency improved with all that practice. He could read more difficult books by the end of the summer and he actually began to love to read! He met the goal of 1000 minutes of reading and became a "finisher". His name was included on a list of finishers that we sent to his school, where finishers were congratulated over the intercom during the Daily School News. His new 3rd grade teacher was impressed and his mother was told that he was now in a higher reading group.
The mother came in to thank us for the Summer Reading Program and said that because of it "He turned a corner and everything just clicked". He's quite a confident reader now and a lively contributor to our monthly Literary Lunch series - recommending good books to other kids! He's a great example of how the Summer Reading Program can prevent the documented "Summer Slide" (loss of reading skills). Many children actually improve their skills. And most importantly, with the right book, a love of reading can take root and blossom here.
I heard last year from a mom who told me that because her child did our summer reading program, it got the whole family reading together and how special it made the summer. We tend to think of summer reading as something which helps prevent summer slide or helps promote literacy. But it turns out it can also help entire families come together in a really sweet way, as well as all the other good things about summer reading we already know.