What does a giant ball of yarn have to do with getting kids reading? At the Saugerties Public Library, the answer is all about motivation.
This year’s summer reading program for children is different than in previous years. Children who are independent readers still keep track of every 15 minutes they read by coloring a spot on their reading records. When they bring the log to the library, however, they do not get to choose a prize out of the prize box as in prior summers. Instead, for every 15 minutes documented they receive an arm’s length of yarn to add to the yarn ball.
The ball, which sits atop a shelf in the children’s room, is hard to miss. A large cardboard box in which it is displayed is nearly bursting at its sides. Librarian Stephanie McElrath called the response to the yarn ball “enthusiastic.” She challenged the kids “to build a ball as tall as I am.”
Adding to the yarn ball is not the only incentive for the library’s summer reading program. Children who color in every spot on the reading log, a total of eleven hours of reading, receive a coupon for Mickey’s Igloo and have their photo taken wearing a pair of oversized boxing gloves and a book-shaped belt emblazoned with the title “champion reader.” These photos are hung on the wall for all to see. The wall of champions includes more than 20 children, several of whom have gold stars for finishing the challenge twice.
Pre readers can also join in. After signing up, they receive a board game reading log. For every 15 minutes they read with an adult, they can fill in a square. For every hour completed, they can go to the library for a sticker and a prize. They are also welcome to come to weekly story times and events. The Wednesday family-night events, which have included a jester, a Star-Wars-themed evening and a dance party, have drawn between 20 to 50 participants.
Between the two groups, McElrath says 297 children have signed up, nearly as many as the 304 that participated last year. The library will continue signing children up through the end of the month.
Older kids who may not be as driven by seeing a giant ball of yarn grow can also partake in rewards this summer. Rather than recording how many minutes they read, they record the number of books in each genre they read. The teen reading log, designed like a Monopoly board, is broken into sections based on genre such as mystery, non-fiction, science fiction. Once they read two books in a genre, they can bring in their log and receive a coupon for an ice cream at Stewart’s. They’re also eligible to participate in a pizza party at the library on August 17.
There are other challenges on the teen reading log, such as entering a work of art into the teen art show and reciting a poem to a staff member. Teens who complete every challenge on the log receive a $15 gift card to their choice of Steam, Hot Topic or Target.
Librarian Christine Pacuk says 57 teens have signed up, a number she calls average. She says the pizza and gift card are sufficient incentive that teens do not need to be coerced into signing up. They do so of their own accord.
The library’s summer reading challenges are part of the national collaborative summer library program, which began with a few regional libraries in 1987. The national program provides material and ideas for local libraries to use. McElrath says there is “great flexibility” in being able to adapt the ideas. “Summer recreational reading is all about preventing the summer slump that can occur during the break before school resumes,” she explains.
With over 350 Saugerties children signed up to complete hours of reading during the summer months, many classrooms should see children eager and prepared come September.