Ch@t: Library’s program designed to combat ‘summer slide’

Posted 5/29/20

For now, Chatham County’s libraries are still closed because of COVID-19 restrictions. And with schools closed, too, the library system’s summer reading program has now taken on new meaning and …

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Ch@t: Library’s program designed to combat ‘summer slide’

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For now, Chatham County’s libraries are still closed because of COVID-19 restrictions. And with schools closed, too, the library system’s summer reading program has now taken on new meaning and importance. This week, we speak with Katy Henderson, Chatham Community Library’s Youth Services Librarian, and Kathleen Pierce, CCL’s Youth Services Library Assistant, about the program — and about the importance of reading.

What’s the CCL Summer Reading Program going to look like this year, given COVID-19’s restrictions?

Katy Henderson: This year, Chatham County Public Libraries are promoting a Virtual Summer Reading Challenge. Participants will be able to sign up online through our Beanstack site — an online vendor that specializes in virtual reading challenges. Our site will be live on June 15, the day the CCPL Summer Reading Challenge kicks off.

Participants log in to the site, create an account, and keep track of the time they spend reading to earn digital badges and physical prizes which can be claimed after the conclusion of the Summer Reading Challenge, or whenever the libraries reopen to the public. There will also be a grand prize drawing at each branch for all participants who have completed at least 10 hours of reading. The Friends of the Chatham Community Library have again sponsored the online reading challenge, as well as all prizes to be awarded.

Kathleen Pierce: In addition to the Summer Reading Program, the library also tries to engage teens several ways: through volunteer opportunities, teen programming, and a Teen Advisory Board (TAB) that plans and executes other programs. Of course, much of that will be on hold this summer, but we are still trying to engage teens, in a more virtual manner. Our in-person, weekly Teen Time has become a successful Zoom meetup, where we discuss life, play online games, and answer philosophical questions. Most of my regular teens from the in-person group are coming, and it is really great to be able to give them some continuity.

Our TAB is less active, but we have decided a few ideas for virtual summer engagement. We want to have a few writing/art contests to give teens an outlet for self-expression, but we haven’t fully figured out how that will go. However, one bright spot is that TAB member Ayana Rojas-Lupoli was inspired by that idea to start a regular “column” about her life during quarantine.

Anecdotally, teachers tell us some students were motivated despite the interruption in the school year, but most students, they say, struggled in some regard. Thinking about lost learning and those interruptions, what role can summer reading play in keeping students fresh, engaged, and ready to dive back in when school starts back up?

Henderson: Summer break is always a time when educators and librarians worry about learning loss, or “summer slide.” In large part, summer reading programs were created to combat the loss of reading skills during the long summer break. This year, due to the COVID crisis, students may be even further behind due to the varying success that students have had with two months of digital learning — and I know that it’s hard to keep that learning going at home from personal experience!

We have been in contact with the Chatham County Schools about the public libraries’ Summer Reading Challenge. Many, if not most, students have school-issued electronic devices that they will be able to keep through the summer, so we hope that they will take advantage of the digital resources — books and curated websites — that the libraries offer. We also hope that kids and teens will sign up for the Summer Reading Challenge and keep reading all through the summer.

Pierce: Summer Reading can definitely keep kids engaged and learning (if indirectly), which will be critical to maintaining student success. However, we know that more online programs can add to the “Zoom fatigue” so many kids (including my own!) are experiencing. In addition to the digital portion, we are also assembling take-home craft packets so that kids can also have tangible learning experiences, with extension ideas for keeping off-screen learning prioritized.

Unfortunately, a lot of the initial set up and enthusiasm has to come from parents and caregivers, who may be overextended in their own personal or work lives, so we will also try to keep what we offer relatively simple and straightforward. For example, I got very frustrated last week trying to assemble an “easy kids craft” and so that one was eliminated from the list!

You’ve developed incentives for these readers…how do they work?

Henderson: With the Beanstack Virtual Summer Reading Challenge, participants can rack up badges for reading different increments of time. There’s a badge at 1 hour and 5 hours of reading, and a badge at 10 hours along with a certificate of completion and an entry into the grand prize drawing. If participants want to keep reading, they earn badges for each 10 hours thereafter, as well as additional entries into the grand prize drawing.

Pierce: The digital incentives are to keep the kids reading until they get to their 10-hour reading goal. And then they are eligible for their prize— a free, non-digital book — plus an entry into the grand prize drawing (usually a book store gift certificate).

What can parents do to engage kids and encourage them to read?

Henderson: Parents can engage kids in reading in lots of ways! They can help kids find and check out digital copies of books from the libraries’ digital collections, or recycle old favorites that they might already have at home. They can use audiobooks (again, downloadable from the digital collections) to share stories with their children. The best way parents can encourage reading, though, is to model reading to their kids — whether it’s a magazine, a cookbook, a novel, or an eBook. When kids see their parents reading, they internalize that reading is something important, and they will copy their parents’ behavior. Make time for reading during the day or after dinner!

Pierce: I think this summer, we also have to be mindful that seemingly “non-learning” activities like playing a game, going for a walk, having conversations, and just observing the world inside and out are also important mental activities that can keep kids’ brains engaged and the synapses firing to encourage growth. As a parent, I am always tempted to have “learning time” with my kids but in many (not all) cases, they are learning more from their chosen activity than they would if I forced them to “do school.” I know this from personal experience! I think as parents, we can keep the pressure off of kids, make a wide range of books and audiobooks available, and trust kids to find them when they are ready.

As those who work with children and youth in the library, can you talk about the value and benefits of reading in general, and perhaps give some encouragement to those who struggle with reading, or maybe haven’t fully explored their interest in reading?

Henderson: I’d say that reading is the key that unlocks the door to all learning. Once a person has the ability to read, they have the ability to learn anything they want. Just as important as the ability to read, is exposure to language. For the youngest children, this happens through every day interactions with their parents and caregivers. For older children, reading will expose them to a broader and richer vocabulary. This all contributes to a child’s ability to learn and understand the world around them.

For kids who struggle, I would say don’t give up. Make reading a family experience. Maybe a child doesn’t like to read, or struggles with reading, but really loves stories! Audiobooks and families reading aloud together might be the key to unlocking the world of books for a struggling or reluctant reader. Also, graphic novels are a great option for kids who may be reluctant to pick up a book — and they have the added bonus of actually requiring multiple forms of cognition to understand — both visual cues and text must be read to understand the story!

Don’t forget that your youth services library staff are able to help with selecting books that kids and teens love! We are available via email at, or through our personalized reading recommendations form on our website:



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