Summer is here. It’s time to spread out the beach towels, lather on the sunscreen and prepare for summer programming.
Summer reading programs combat the period between school years when reading skills decline and educational growth made during the year diminishes. But summer reading isn’t the only way to keep kids’ minds in motion when school is out. These seven programs think “outside the book” to expand “summer reading” into “summer learning.”
Explore creativity with scouting at the library
Research  shows that children’s creativity scores have been declining since the 1990s. With this in mind, Jessica Speer, the youth services manager at Highland (Ill.) Park Public Library , created Library Scouts , an explorer-themed program that connects kids ages 6 to 14 to their community and library services.
Library Scouts challenges kids to check out books, participate in library programs and engage in community service through Trail Maps, activity sheets that track progress. Each Trail Map is based on a theme — such as 3D printing , stitching  and books  — and divided into three objectives: learn a skill, create a product and communicate with others. (Click on the links for "3D printing," "stitching" and "books" for Trail Maps on those subjects.)
For example, the Stitchcraft Trail Map encourages participants to learn knitting by checking out a yarn book or attending the library knitting program, create a bookmark using a stitching technique and share their creation with a charity.
A completed map earns the participant a customized badge, made by the library’s button maker.
Although the Highland Park Public Library received a grant from the Association for Library Service to Children  to fund the project, Speer said other libraries can replicate the program.
“For a lot of libraries, you can just attach the concept of the trail to programs you already offer,” said Speer. “The difficult part is coming up with the Trail Maps.”
Library Scouts just completed its pilot, and this summer it will add 12 more Trail Maps on topics such as magic, pet care, nature and coding. Speer said making sure staff members and participants understand the program is crucial.
“People are generally familiar with scouting, but they’re familiar with scouting as sort of like there’s a troop and real adult guidance and leadership. This is much more of a kid-led activity,” said Speer. “Making sure that the staff knows and can explain to parents and kids how it works — that’s been really critical for us.”
Transform book fairs into giveaways
A book exchange is a cost-effective program that allows libraries to clear out their piles of book donations and inspires patrons to restock their summer reading bookshelf.
At the Book Swap ‘til You Drop  event at the Green Tree Public Library in Pittsburgh, Penn., participants in grades K-6 exchange their own books for books from their peers and from the library’s donations collection.
Shannon Barron, assistant director at the library, said the first step of the exchange is to lay out expectations in the program’s promotion. The Book Swap ‘til You Drop event description  states readers can swap up to six books, and only books in good condition will be accepted.
At the event, Barron separates the books children bring and the library donations into categories such as picture books and advanced chapter books. While children work on a passive activity, Barron calls up groups to the table by grades. After the initial swap, she continues to call up groups by shirt colors or letters until each child is satisfied with his/her books. Participants can also win “bonus books” by playing games, such as spinning a prize wheel.
Barron suggests keeping the program turnout low. She said that about 20 people register for her book swap; if you have a larger group, consider hosting two swaps on different days.
“I know we get caught up in the statistics game, but sometimes it's not about the quantity of the program but the quality,” said Barron. “Keeping my registration numbers low means that I can personally monitor the program and make sure that everyone is getting enough books [and] has had a fair time in selecting their books.”
Barron said the book swap not only benefits kids who can’t visit the library frequently during the summer, but it also helps busy programming librarians.
“It really is a fun program that doesn't require lots of prepping and planning, so it's perfect for the summer months when children and youth librarians are already maxed to their limit,” she said.
Delve into the digital world for book discussions
Some kids aren’t comfortable discussing book in front of their peers. Alison Colman had heard that the Naperville (Ill.) Public Library had low turnout at its teen summer book clubs, so when she was hired there as a teen services librarian, she decided to go virtual.
Colman started a Goodreads Yay for YA ! book club in May 2015. Goodreads allow users to post polls, pictures, library events and discussion threads.
Colman’s main goal is to engage patrons, which is why she makes the online book club as user-led as possible. On the Yay for YA! page, she posts polls to see what members want to read next and allows anyone from the Goodreads community participate.
“It’s just a fun forum and way to host a book club if you feel like you have tried everything else,” said Colman. “It’s not like you’re wasting resources by trying it out and not getting any interaction.”
To promote the club, Colman suggests reaching out to your library’s Teen Advisory Group, if you have one, because “they will participate and do a lot of the promotion for you.”
Pair beginning readers with new friends and furry companions
The Naperville Public Library’s goal to engage readers in the summer also translates into its reading-aloud programs for children.
Read2Gether  is a volunteer-based summer program that pairs kids in grades K-5 with a teen to practice reading. Reading aloud helps struggling readers build grammar, memory, attention and sequencing skills, according to Education.com .
Carla Eisley, the children’s services associate at Naperville Public, said staff members begin speaking at middle schools about volunteer opportunities in May. Teen volunteers must attend an orientation to learn how kids understand words and what materials are appropriate.
“Read2Gether is not a tutoring program, but rather a community advocacy program,” said Eisley, “and kids may feel more comfortable making errors or reading tentatively with teens listening as opposed to teachers or parents.”
The program culminates with a reading performance in front of parents and friends.
For a quieter, furrier reading companion, children in grades 1-5 can attend the library’s Bark for Books, an eight-week Saturday program that pairs kids with a therapy dog for one-on-one reading sessions.
Naperville Public Library partnered with two canine organizations to bring pups to the library. Similar to Read2gether, participants don’t have to sign up in advance, and the session can be included in their summer reading logs.
At the end of the 10- to 15-minute reading session, each child receives stickers from one of the canine organizations, a bookmark from the library and a prize that’s donated from a local pet boutique.
“Many of our readers come from cultures not used to dogs as pets, so this program serves as an introduction to the wonderful world of animals, with the dog's owner serving as a reading supporter and humane education educator at the same time,” said Eisley.
Gear up for bike safety
This year’s Collaborative Summer Reading Program theme for children was On Your Mark, Get Set...Read! . What better way to kick off summer reading than partnering with several community organizations to host a bike safety event?
The Huntington (Ind.) City-Township Public Library  will convert its parking lot into a bike resource fair for the first annual Bike Rodeo on Saturday, June 4. The rodeo invites local organizations to participate and start a dialogue on safety, including the police department, hospital and bike shop. The Huntington Area Recreational Trails Association will also set up an obstacle course.
The event concludes with a bike ride around the city led by the mayor.
Youth services librarian Kay Stine started planning the program by reaching out to the community.
“After our brainstorming, we first contacted the mayor since he is an avid cyclist and got him on board,” said Stine. “Then we just called the other organizations and asked if they would be interested in partnering.”
As a follow-up program, the library plans to host a bike license plate-making workshop on the Monday after the bike rodeo.
Promote your summer reading program with a traveling mascot
“Do you know where Milty is?” This is the question on many West Milton, Ohio, community members’ minds during the summer, thanks to a collaboration between the Weekly Record Herald  newspaper and the Milton-Union Public Library .
Before the summer reading program begins, the library PR specialist photographs Milty, the library’s unofficial bulldog mascot, at different community locations. Every week of the library’s summer reading program, the Weekly Record Herald publishes one of these photos. Participants fill out a form to guess where Milty is, and all of the correct entries are put in a prize drawing. Last year, the prize was a “get out of fines free” card.
Joyell Nevins, the library’s PR specialist, said the Where’s Milty project brings more patrons to the library because that’s where the forms are; the library doesn't allow online entries. Last year, the library received 10 to 20 entries each week, and some patrons created a family game with the project.
“Some grandparents and grandkids made it a scavenger hunt each week to find out where Milty was,” said Nevins.
So far, Milty has traveled to video stores, fire stations, drug stores, parks and ice cream shops. Nevins suggests to first reach out to your local newspaper or community website for partnerships, but don’t forget the impact of a creative project.
“The monetary value of the prize is less important than the general attitude of the project,” said Nevins. “Have fun with it!”