Libraries Stack Up on Activities for Children and Families

The Akron-Summit County Public Library system provides well-rounded learning experiences

Bookshelves witness more learning, laughter and play at the Akron-Summit County Public Library (ASCPL) Main Library, its branches and Mobile Services than ever before.

Thanks to a robust program offering at all ASCPL locations, local children and their families may discover a sense of community, while also developing a love for learning.

Children participate in a summertime library program at ASCPL's Norton branch.

Children participate in a summertime library program at ASCPL’s Norton branch.

According to Barb White, ASCPL’s neighborhood services manager, the library’s role in the community is to help kids learn. Contrary to the appearance of traditional libraries from the past, this support expands beyond providing books for children and families to check out on myriad of topics.

“We help develop lifelong learners at our libraries,” White says. “Our continuum of programs allows children and their families to connect with one another by building skills and enjoying different learning experiences.”

From the library’s summer reading program and Paws for Reading, to NatureConnect, book discussion groups and more, patrons of all ages have several opportunities to further engage with other community members through library programs.

“More than 8,850 individuals signed up for this year’s Mind, Body & Sole summer reading program, including 5,638 children from preschool ages through teenagers,” White says. “Out of the total number of registrants, an amazing 4,162 participants of all ages reached the goal of 26 days reading and exercising – a goal patterned after one of our many partners, the Akron Marathon. More participants than ever before – 1,957 – reached the final goal of 50 days reading and exercising.

“They wanted to be part of something bigger than themselves,” White adds. “We were thrilled with that turnout.”

NatureConnect, an interactive opportunity for patrons of all ages in all ASCPL locations, reconnects individuals with the natural world. The program is a chance to observe and share, through writing, conversation and sketching, the wonder that is all around us in urban and suburban settings.

“ASCPL was very excited to partner with Summit County Metro Parks on the Pathways to Poetry project,” White explains. “Fifteen poems by school-age and teen writers were displayed at three parks this summer; all of the 100 entries submitted for consideration were powerful and spoke to the strong connection we all have with the natural world. Exploring that year-round is what ASCPL’s NatureConnect is all about.”

From January through August 2016, 101,667 preschool through teenage children and their families attended 3,567 ASCPL programs.

Enriching Educations

Heather Harstine, a mother of two from Norton, loves the many opportunities she has to expose her children to new educational experiences at the library.

“Exposure is important,” she says. “That was modeled for me as a child, so now I try to bring my children to new experiences, too.”

For the past three summers, Harstine has attended the Wednesday morning children’s program at the ASCPL Norton branch with her daughters, Lauren, 9, and Megan, 7.

“They’ve featured a cooking demonstration, reptile visits, a cartoonist – every week is a different topic, which means great exposure for my kids,” Harstine says. “They enjoy the program for its entertainment value, but also for its variety.”

A child reads to a dog during the Paws for Reading program ASCPL's the Tallmadge branch.

A child reads to a dog during the Paws for Reading program ASCPL’s the Tallmadge branch.

Harstine and her daughters have also participated in the summer reading program. Lauren and Megan even won a prize basket during last year’s program.

“They were thrilled,” Harstine recalls. “Providing them with something to work toward motivated them to continue reading in summer. I love the concept and excitement of the summer reading program because all of us can be in the same room, reading books together and expanding our minds.”

In addition to the summer programs, Harstine and her daughters have attended the library’s Halloween dress-up event, a library scavenger hunt and Paws for Reading – a program during which children read aloud to dogs.

“My kids loved Paws for Reading; we didn’t have a dog at that time, so it was special to them to spend time with the dogs,” Harstine says, adding helping the dogs gave her daughters more reasons to read.

“It’s a non-threatening environment in which to practice reading,” White says. “Some children begin Paws for Reading barely reading at grade level and ultimately improve their skills as a result of the extra practice.”

Overall, Harstine and her daughters enjoy the Norton librarians’ friendliness and willingness to engage them in conversation upon arrival.

“Because the librarians know our names and see us so frequently, it makes us want to keep coming back; it makes a difference to my kids,” Harstine explains, adding, “The library is a hidden treasure; different people of all ages go there to use different resources. The older I get and as I continue to raise my children, the more I appreciate what the library has to offer.”

Supporting Schools

Teresa Hymes, administrator at Tallmadge Kiddie Kollege and FACT Academy, supplemented her summer camp program at Kiddie Kollege with the Mind, Body and Sole program at the ASCPL Tallmadge branch.

According to White, almost 9,000 people in Summit County signed up for Mind, Body and Sole this year. Nearly all of Hymes’ 25 students completed the program in 26 days this summer.

“We visited the library every other Thursday to check out books,” Hymes explains. Her students kept individual logs to track their daily reading and exercise time.

Children participate in one of many programs ASCPL's Norton branch offers.

Children participate in one of many programs ASCPL’s Norton branch offers.

“The students really enjoyed the program and are already asking if they can do it again next year!” Hymes adds. “I was surprised by the number of children who never visited the library before; now every child in my class has a library card. Some parents have started using the library and reading again as a result.”

This was the second year Hymes enrolled her class in Mind, Body and Sole. Last year her students won the book package from the ASCPL Tallmadge branch.

“The earlier you can make reading more fun, the more likely children seem to remain interested in it throughout their lives,” Hymes says. “My kids even ask for reading time. They can go to different places through a book.”

Hymes really appreciates the work of the librarians in Tallmadge to support her students.

“The librarians do a tremendous job,” Hymes says. “Not only do their displays of new books grab the children’s attention, but more importantly, the librarians ask my students what they’re interested in reading.”

Hymes adds the librarians remember the children’s comments until their next visit, when the librarians present them with books they like.

“Being upbeat with the kids helps draw on their interests, which is refreshing to see,” she adds.

For more information about the ASCPL Main Library, its branches, Mobile Services and programs, visit www.akronlibrary.org.