All summer long, we've been working with local kids, teens, and parents, asking them to challenge themselves—and have lots of fun in the process.

“As a center of community learning, the library is in a unique position to support families in our community in their efforts to keep children on track,” said Cynthia Landrum, the library’s Assistant Director for Public Services. “Public library summer learning programs, resources, and service learning initiatives provide access to opportunities that assist families in achieving positive learning outcomes for their children. This in turn creates positive outcomes for our community."

In addition to popular summer reading programs for kids and adults, here are more ways our community was learning with the library this June and July.

Family Creative Learning

When asked to describe their feelings about technology, participants in this family tech-learning workshop series responded: “Optimistic.” “Cautious.”

“There are so many technologies out in the world these days, and it can be overwhelming for parents to try to figure them all out, and then figure out how to talk about them with their kids,” said Children’s Librarian Anne Bensfield, one of the librarians leading the workshop series. “We decided to do the Family Creative Learning program as a way to be more intentional with how we learn about technology.”

Based on MIT’s Family Creative Learning workshop series, this four-week pilot program brought children and parents together at the Main Library to learn new technologies and work together as designers and inventors. Using the programming tool Scratch and the invention kit Makey Makey, each family created a final project—an animated family crest or a family theme song—and presented it to the group at the final workshop.

“The invigorating part of the process is that we’re all learning together,” said Digital Services Librarian Jerica Copeny, who collaborated with Bensfield to lead the workshop. “Families can come to the library and put away any hang-ups about technology and have fun doing it. It’s about creating a space for us where we’re all able to share what we’re learning.”

“And making time for families to play and tinker,” Bensfield added. “Learning tech for fun and with family is important.”

At the end of the program, one participant said he appreciated the sense of community throughout the learning process. “I felt a sense of communal pride for everyone's achievements, in addition to the personal pride I experienced," he said.

Teen Summer Volunteer Program: Rising Reader Mentors

In the Rising Reader Mentors program—just one of the opportunities for teens this summer—teen volunteers mentored small groups of kids in grades 3-5 who needed a little extra help with reading, science, and math.

Rising Readers is a summer offshoot of the Power of Partnerships program, which was started at Holmes Elementary to give lower-performing kids more help during the school year. The library has been working with the program since 2008 to provide teen volunteer mentors during the summer. This summer, a group of 12 teens mentored students from Holmes and Irving elementary schools at the Main Library and Maze Branch.

“This year, we expanded the program, taking it to two days a week, and we also gave teen mentors a much bigger hand in leading the program. They worked with the kids and taught them the concepts with guidance from teachers, and they also created and implemented a curriculum from scratch,” Teen Services Librarian Rachael Bild said.

At Maze Branch, the teens planned their own curriculum, reading The Phantom Tollbooth aloud with the kids and working on fun “extension” activities like a synonym-matching game.

“It was a significant departure from the last couple of years, where the teens were mainly supporting the teachers,” Bild said. “This summer, the teens were doing the teaching, and the teachers were assisting the teens.”

Bild said that the teens, younger kids, and teachers all enjoyed reading The Phantom Tollbooth together. “At the end of week two, when we had to stop reading, there was an audible ‘Awww!’ because they weren’t ready to stop reading. And that was definitely the best moment,” she said.

Bild said she expects the library to try new things next year as well. The library is already talking with teachers about how to better support Power of Partnerships during the school year and next summer, and possibly expanding the summer program to more schools.

“Service learning gives people of all ages a sense that they can make a difference in the world and in the lives of others,” Bild said. “Developmentally, teens do well to work in groups and socialize with peers. We also often give them tasks that are fun. So if the job is fun, and the process is fun, and you get to accomplish something meaningful, it's a win all the way around.”

Summer Library Adventure: Unmask!

More than 3,000 kids, from newborns to incoming seventh-graders, signed up for this year’s superhero-themed summer library adventure, which ran from June 4 to July 31.

“We’ve been telling kids that this is a summer where they get to figure out what their own superpowers and interests are,” Children’s Librarian Shelley Harris said. “We’re giving them a structure so that they can be free to be creative, find out what they’re good at, and try new things. As a library, we always like to provide possibilities for kids, to spark new passions.”

On the final day of Unmask!, 10-year-old twins Daniel and Maya stood at the Children’s Services desk. This was the twins’ fifth year participating in the library’s summer program, and as they collected their prizes, they described what they had done to earn them.

“I read a lot of fantasy and some realistic fiction,” Daniel said. He also designed a death ray, he said, as part of a “design-a-gadget” super challenge.

“I liked doing the challenges,” Maya agreed. “I designed an animal whistle. When you blow it, all the animals in the world will come.”

The library gave out about 2,500 prizes, with superhero masks being clear favorites. But beyond numbers and prizes, Harris said she has been amazed at how engaged families have been this summer. “It’s been really exciting to see families working together on missions. There has been so much collaboration and caregiver support.”