By Koo Hwangbo
Reading is essential to improving not only children’s literacy skills but also their cognitive abilities. As summer vacation begins and kids leave the classroom, however, students tend to read less and sideline their studies. When that happens, students can experience a “summer slide,” a phenomenon where children lose reading skills, return to school after break and fall behind where they need to be. To encourage children to continue reading and learning over summer vacation, Fairfax County Public Library organizes an annual summer reading challenge—which takes place June 23 to Sept. 3 this year—that incentivizes students with the chance to earn coupon books for food, sports tickets and games. The more they read, the more they win.
“What’s special about the summer reading program is that, unlike schools where students are assigned books, we like [participants] to read whatever they like to read,” says Ted Kavich, program and educational services manager at FCPL. “The idea is that reading can be fun. If you like to read mysteries, if you like to read graphic novels, if you like to read love stories, whatever it is that you like, read it. It’s all good.”
The FCPL summer reading program is made possible by community support and donations made by organizations such as the Friends of the George Mason Regional Library, Friends of the Kings Park Library and the Fairfax Library Foundation.
In addition to the summer reading program, FCPL encourages students to exercise their artistic and writing skills during summer contests. For the Teen Cover Art contest, for example, rising seventh- through 12th-graders find an award-winning book and redesign the cover with their own original artwork. Students submit the art to the library, and a panel of expert judges award prizes to the winners. The deadline for submissions this year is Aug. 5.
“The winner’s artwork gets featured on these lovely bookmarks that our graphics department produces every year,” says Kavich. “We’ve had really good participation. We have a lot of entries, and it’s been popular right out of the gate.”
Another summer contest FCPL organizes is its annual essay and poetry contest presented by the For Love of Country Foundation. Rising seventh- to ninth-graders write an essay or poem on a designated theme, and this year, the theme is “Why Vote?”, and the deadline is Sept. 3. Winners earn cash prizes of up to $100.
“We want to engage our community, we want to educate, we want to inform and we want to entertain, so a successful event or program from us is potentially going to do all of those things,” Says Kavich.
“There’s nothing more wonderful than seeing… kids and parents browse books at the library and knowing they’re going to take them back home to read,” he adds. “It’s great to think that our events and programs enhance people’s lives. It’s just a wonderful feeling.”