Category Archives: Summer reading

Summer reading, part three (the log post)

Does tracking your reading time take away the joy of reading?  Can the action of having to record the minutes you spend reading make a reader become a non-reader?

I’ve often thought about this, and I was very interested to read this article in The Atlantic.  The article suggests that the school practice of asking children to read for twenty minutes a night and then to record that time and write about their reading can and does affect how children view reading; that reading goes from being a pleasure to being a chore.  My question is, does the summer reading program at the library fall into the same category?

The summer reading program is voluntary, so that makes me feel better.  But I also know that I participate in the summer reading program each year myself, with the goal of reading at least thirty hours each summer, and that I actually hate having to keep track of how much time I spend reading.  I read because I love to read, not because I need to read thirty minutes a day (or whatever time is necessary to get to thirty hours), and tracking feels wrong.  Do I count the ten minutes in the bathroom reading The New Yorker?  Yuck – but I guess I do.  If I get totally sucked into a great story, do I have to look at the clock at the start of my reading and then again at the end and then do the math to figure out how much time I’ve read, rather than bask in the glow of having finished an excellent book?  If I’m tracking my summer reading, then yes, I do.

So I see why the argument could be made that the library summer reading program could be detrimental to the joy of reading for some children.  BUT – and this is a big BUT – we all know that children leave school in June with a certain skill level for reading, and that if they don’t read over the summer their reading skill will have dimished by the fall.  This does happen, and the way to avoid that slippage is to read over the summer.  Summer is also an amazing time for children and reading, since they have lots of free time and the ability to choose to read whatever they would like.  I have seen many children go from functional to avid (and hopefully lifelong) readers over the course of the summer.  It can be magic, and the summer reading program helps that magic to happen.

As you can see from my past two posts, one of my big goals at the library has been to make the summer reading program be more about pride of achievement and joy of reading than about junky prizes or requirements.  I’m hopeful that the structure of our summer reading program nurtures joy and pride; I’ve certainly done my best to format it that way.  And it is, and always will be, an optional part of a child’s summer.  For the children who tell me they love to read but don’t want to participate in summer reading, my response is always, “That is absolutely OK!  The most important thing is that you Love To Read!”

Summer reading, part two (the cheating post)

In the past ten summers of the summer reading program, there has been little to no cheating as children log their summer reading hours.  There’s been no reason to cheat, since pride of achievement has been the main feature of summer reading, and also since children can only earn a maximum of eleven prizes over the summer (three yellow prizes, four blue prizes, and four red prizes).  Occasionally a child will come up to the desk on the second day of summer reading with twenty-four hours of reading time logged, only to have the harsh realization that the fibbing in their reading log hasn’t gained them anything – they won’t earn any additional junky plastic prizes from that point on.  There has been no point in cheating, and any temptation to cheat has been replaced by a real desire to achieve a personal reading goal over the summer, and to take real pride in that accomplishment.

So I was really surprised to have kids ask me about cheating in this year’s class visits.  I meet with each elementary school class individually over the course of two weeks, which is important because the cheating question has come up in almost every single class this year (but has never been raised to me in past years’ class visits).  The difference this year?  The online summer reading program.

We have used an online summer reading program for almost every summer that I have been at the library.  The Massachusetts Library System (MLS) very kindly provides access to the program for all public libraries in the state, and I have absolutely loved using the online program.  Kids log in to their accounts from either their home computers or the library computers, enter their reading time, write book reviews of books they have read, and then check in with the children’s librarians to find out what prizes they have earned.  Easy for everyone, and I love that writing and comprehension skills are being maintained over the summer in addition to reading skills.

The online program has always been fairly bare-bones, not flashy, just functional.  This year is exciting, since the MLS has changed to a new program that has a game component to it.  Each child has an avatar as part of their summer reading account, and as children enter their reading time, they earn points that they can spend to buy new body parts for their avatar.  It’s really cool: current, accessible, and fun.  In addition, this program has a challenges feature, in which I can set up various challenges that kids can choose to attempt.  There are no points or prizes awarded for completing a challenge; it’s all about pride of achievement.  I have set up book review challenges (write a book review), secret code challenges (visit the library and ask the children’s librarian for this week’s secret code), and scavenger hunt challenges (fifteen different challenges that encourage children to read different genres and types of books).

I LOVE this new program, and I’ve been so excited to present it to the classes.  The kids in the classes LOVE the new program, too, and are very excited to try it out.

The surprise, for me, has been that in each class there has been at least one child who has asked me, “won’t kids cheat and lie about their reading time so that they can earn points to change their avatar?”  Huh.  It hadn’t occurred to me that this might be an issue – but once the first child asked me that question, I can see how it is a problem.  If a child is more focused on the game aspect of summer reading than the reading aspect of summer reading, and if they want instant gratification when changing their avatar, then yes, they probably will cheat.  Which is quite unfortunate.

My reply to the “won’t kids cheat?” question has been to say that we use the honor system for summer reading, and that I know they are all honorable people.  In addition, I say, there is pride in accomplishment in summer reading – if you earn a bookplate that goes in a library book, you want that bookplate to reflect your actual summer reading achievement.  There is pride in that bookplate, and cheating won’t feel good.

I hope my answer has been sufficient, and that the children participating in summer reading this year will continue to set reading goals for themselves and feel good about their summer reading accomplishments.  Only time will tell if this is true, but I have hopes that it will be.

Summer reading, part one (the prize post)

I’m in the middle of my visits with the elementary school classes to promote the library’s summer reading program, and I’ve been thinking a lot (as usual for this time of year) about summer reading – what it is and why we do it.

I love encouraging kids to read over the summer, since most of my happiest childhood memories involve books and reading.  There’s nothing like losing yourself in a story when you’re a child; I haven’t been able to duplicate that experience as an adult reader.  So I love that the library promotes reading over the summer, that we bring in fantastic new books for kids to discover and that we also have lots of programs over the summer, many of them literacy-based, to bring children into the library.

But the prizes thing has always bothered me – always.  Yes, I understand that offering prizes for reading can often get children who aren’t readers to discover the joy of reading through the back door method of offering them a toy in exchange for time spent reading.  This is especially true for the youngest readers, parents tell me.  But parents also often tell me that once the prizes go home, they go into a pile and are never looked at or played with again.

Back in my first summer at the library (this is my eleventh summer), I changed the fundamental structure of the summer reading program prize awarding system.  The system I inherited involved earning a wooden nickel for every fifteen minutes of reading (the nickels could then be “spent” on prizes which had money values attached to them).  Cheating was rampant, since kids wanted the “expensive” prizes, which required more nickels.  My first move was to eliminate the wooden nickels; my second move was to limit the total number of prizes that a child could earn over the summer.  I added a charity donation voting component to summer reading, so that for each hour a child reads, they earn one charity donation voting ticket.  The more a child reads, the more impact they have on which charity receives the donation at the end of the summer.  I also added a bookplate in a library book for all children who read at least thirty hours over the summer (I can’t claim credit for either the charity donation or the bookplate ideas – both came from other brilliant children’s librarians).  When visiting with classes, I stress that I consider the bookplate to be the ultimate summer reading prize, since whenever someone checks out the library book with your bookplate in it, they get to see how much reading you did over that summer – it’s a real point of pride, and many kids set and achieve high reading goals for their bookplates (some as high as 200 hours over a summer).

But the prizes remain, and over the years they have gotten a bit out of control.  My initial order of prizes was manageable, and looked attractive and appealing on display.  Over the course of many years, though, the prize display has gotten obscenely large as I’ve had to order new prizes to replenish the supply.  We have kept the prizes in their original display boxes, so that each prize is displayed separately.  Some display boxes only have a few prizes left in them, some are newly ordered and fuller.  This means that we have what looks like a candy store of prizes – boxes and boxes of prizes lined up on top of the shelves.  The prizes have taken over the room, simply because I’ve kept them individually displayed.

So this year is going to be different.  I found plastic boxes that match the colors I long-ago assigned to the prizes (yellow, blue, and red), and each of those plastic boxes is going to contain an assortment of types of prizes.  Kids will get to dig through the colored plastic boxes and select a prize from the assortment.  And I didn’t order any new prizes this year, partly because I had to spend money on the plastic boxes, and partly because we truly have plenty of prizes on hand – it’s just that we only have a handful of some types of prizes.

In my next post, I’ll address the troubling issue that has come up as I’ve met with the elementary school classes: the issue of cheating.  And then I hope to have one more post on the topic of reading logs and how they can be both a blessing and a curse (inspired by this recent article in The Atlantic).

Ten days!

Ten days to go in this year’s summer reading program!  It’s been a whirlwind – never a slow moment – and Jim and I are planning a fair amount of down time in our upcoming vacation (a stay-cation).

And the program I most looked forward to this summer is coming tomorrow:  Wolf Talk!  Yay!  If I get any good photos of the wolf, I will post them here.

One last thought: I really, really wish that the spammers and hackers would leave my silly little blog alone.  I’m really getting tired of people trying to hack into my blog, and I do wonder why in the world they bother with me and my domain.  How hard is it to get your own website, spammers?  Please leave this lowly little librarian alone.  🙂

Summer update

This has been the CRAZIEST summer reading program I have ever seen at the library – constantly busy, every day, with almost no down time – and considering that this is my ninth summer at the library, that’s saying something.  Mind you, a crazy busy summer at the library is a very good problem to have!

So this is just a very quick update on my summer, all aspects (with, of course, some cat photos!):

Great programs so far this summer at the library, including the annual Ice Cream Social, a concert with the Toe Jam Puppet Band, stories with Mark Binder, hula hooping with Pinto Bella Hoops, a Historical Sword Demonstration with Jeff Goodhind and Jeff Lord, four book group meetings, and storytimes.  And lots and lots and lots of kids doing huge amounts of reading (and collecting prizes and working towards their summer reading bookplates).

Home improvement projects are continuing as we can find time to do them.  We priced out buying new kitchen cabinets from Home Depot, and realized that it would be cheaper for Jim to build our new cabinets – so that is Jim’s current project.  The quote from the electrician for the necessary work in the kitchen should be coming in soon, hopefully low enough that we can afford it, and then we need to figure out our timeline and finally finish off that kitchen.

Needless to say, this summer’s vacation week will be a staycation yet again, both because we need to fund the home improvement projects, and also because we need some time to do them!  And Jim is picking up quite a few gigs this summer, including one during our summer vacation.  (Acton Boxborough Farmer’s Market, Sunday, August 24.)

And the cats are doing very well.  No longer kittens, they are still not adults, and exhibit some rather annoying behaviors still (such as chewing power cords), but they are wonderful little buggers and we love them very much.  Moses is absolutely huge now, probably well over fifteen pounds, and the girls, Millie and Moxie, are adorably normal-sized.  (See photos below.)  We still feed Mommy Cat every day, and I’m trying to see if I can make friends with her, though her continued skittishness makes me think that she truly is feral.

And that’s it!  The quick summer update!

 

Happy September

I actually love the month of September – even though we’re busy at the library after school with kids coming over from the elementary, middle, and high schools, the mornings are lovely and quiet and I get tons done.

Sometimes my storytime regulars ask why I take a couple of weeks off from storytimes in September, and I always reply, “So I can get some ordering done after the summer!”  Summers at the library are almost relentlessly busy, and it’s difficult to focus on reading book reviews in The Horn Book Magazine and Kirkus when kids are coming up to the desk every few minutes to redeem summer prizes or ask for summer reading book suggestions.  I need these next few weeks to pay some careful attention to ordering, and to make sure our shelves are fully stocked with the latest and greatest as winter comes around the corner.

But there’s another reason I take a couple of weeks off from storytimes in September: it’s vitally important to take a little time off from them so that I get refreshed and revitalized.  Yes, I could keep plugging along at the usual stiff storytime pace that I keep up the rest of the year (five or so storytimes a week), but we all benefit from me having just a few weeks off.  I actually love that I get nervous and edgy before my first September storytime, because it means that I’m coming back to storytimes with a fresh perspective.  If I’m nervous, then I’m fully engaged, and if I’m fully engaged, then storytimes are soooo much more fun for everyone.

One of my greatest fears is getting stale in my job, which is why I’m always pushing myself to do more and to try new and different things.  And by stepping back and taking a break, I can look at my storytimes from a bit of a distance and evaluate what I’m doing well and what I need to do better.  I’ll never go so far as to film myself doing a storytime, because that would destroy my self-confidence, but I’m very capable of being objective about my own performance.  I know that I overuse certain phrases, and I’m aiming to not say those phrases coming up in September.  I know that I’m a little afraid of using parent tips in my storytimes, but I need to get over that hump and start incorporating those tips more regularly.  And I know that by the end of the summer I was a bit tired and worn out, and I’m glad to take this breather and regain my enthusiasm.

So the next few weeks will be devoted to freshening my storytime perspective, and spending some intense time doing my absolute favorite part of my job: ordering books.  Yay!  Happy September, everyone!

Kittens and cats, oh my

Soooooooo, no time to post entries lately; all my free time has been consumed by rescue operations for Mommy Cat and her four soon-to-be-feral kittens (they are six weeks old now, and need to be socialized before they are eight or, at the most, ten weeks).  Our vet referred us to a wonderful woman who is helping us to trap everyone, and then everyone needs to be socialized.  And our wonderful vet loaned us a large cage to keep everyone in, and has offered to give free vet care to the kittens that we are not keeping.

I’m learning a lot about cats, and about trapping, and there definitely is a science and psychology to everything.  The wonderful woman who is masterminding the effort has a policy of “leave no one behind,” and that means we can’t freak out the mom (or she’ll move the remaining kittens to a new location) or give the kittens a fear of traps.  Lots of time and patience is required for this effort.  And great thanks to our vet and her friend.

And, of course, Tuesday was the Ice Cream Social – ninety-five degree heat with some humidity, and a life-saving breeze coming from the pond.  All went off without a hitch, and now it’s full swing for summer reading and prizes prizes prizes.  Whew.  So do forgive me if you don’t hear from me for a bit – I’m busy trying to save the feline world while running a huge summer reading program.  🙂

Ice Cream!

The ice cream is in the building!

Just arrived from Erikson’s Dairy of Maynard (many thanks to them for giving us a generous discount on the ice cream):  seven tubs of ice cream and one tub of raspberry sorbet.  Yum!  Now we’re almost ready for next week’s Ice Cream Social…all that’s still needed are the toppings and good weather.  Surely we’ve had enough rain for a while and are ready for a dry spell?

In praise of elementary students

I never, never, never post on this blog from work – but I have to take a brief moment today to say “hurray!” for the three great classes that just visited from the elementary school.  Two second grade classes came for a visit together, and they were so fun and so well behaved – I had a great time with them.  And then a third grade class just came for a tour of the library, and I was blown away by how attentive they were and by what great questions they asked.

What a great morning I’ve had with these visiting students!  And I can’t wait to meet the terrific first and fourth graders who will be visiting me this afternoon!

Procrastination…the fine art of

I turned on the computer to work on the library tour that I’ll be giving to the elementary school students this week, starting with two third grade classes tomorrow.

“Why don’t you get your work done now, in the morning, so that we can enjoy the rest of the day?” said my wonderful and wise husband before heading outside to work on installing the cedar decking on our new back steps.

That was about an hour ago.  In that hour, I’ve checked Facebook (both my account and Pepper B. Collie’s account), checked my email, read something my sister sent me, checked my work email, looked at a shirt on Garnet Hill, drunk two cups of tea, sent an email to my friend, turned on a McAfee scan on the computer, and now logged in to write a blog post.  And my flashdrive and the hard copy of the library tour that I printed out on Friday are both sitting next to me on the chair, unused so far today.

Sigh.