Blasting off into a good book

With the summer reading theme A Universe of Stories, The Burlington County Library System is encouraging children to let their imaginations take off into space.

Four-year-old Jasai Sykes busy forming his play dough planet during a STEAM activity at the Burlington County Library based around this year’s summer reading theme, A Universe of Stories.

When the final school bells sound, ringing in the summer season, many young children take it as a cue to forget about reading altogether and turn their brains off for two months. While this may sound attractive to a kid, parents tend to worry about their children sliding back during these summer months and losing some of the progress they made during the school year.

Here to help is the Burlington County Library System, currently offering its summer reading program, entitled: A Universe of Stories. 

“During the summer, we find there’s something called the ‘summer slide’ where kids sometimes lose being in touch with reading when school isn’t in session. A lot of schools have a big push toward reading and then summer happens. It’s important for the library to host our summer reading program and to have literacy-based events to help keep that relevant in their lives,” said BCLS Coordinator of Youth Services Christina Nemphos.

The incentive-based program is available now and runs until Aug. 17. Parents can sign their child up at the nearest BCLS location, where staff or volunteers can help them through the process, or online at bcls.lib.nj.us.

Each year, libraries across the nation participate in similar programs all based around a central theme. This year’s theme, A Universe of Stories, is centered around the solar system and beyond. Each BCLS location is hosting related activities, crafts and guests. 

“A lot of our performers that come in will customize shows around the theme and it just brings in a whole new learning element on that theme. This year being the universe, it really lets us capture space and technology and open up an area that maybe some kids haven’t explored yet,” said Nemphos.

This year’s theme ties in well with the STEAM learning focus already in place with many of the libraries’ activities, incorporating aspects of both science and technology. 

Julie Conca with the Burlington County Library Youth Services department gets her group ready for a STEAM activity where they were able to make their own planet using play dough.

Participants in the program can track their reading progress using the Beanstack mobile app or pick up a paper version at any BCLS location. 

“We see a lot of children who have their own phones as well as parents recording for their children finding it convenient to put it on their phones because they are very used to using apps for other parts of their lives. With Beanstack, you can scan a barcode and it automatically logs the book, so there’s a lot of convenience involved,” said Nemphos. 

Children ages 5 and under are eligible for a prize after logging 10 books they have read or had a parent read to them, and children ages 6 to 12 are eligible after logging three books read. 

According to Nemphos, some prizes available at the Burlington County Library location include coupons for free items at local businesses, prize raffles and grab bags.

“We try to meet all the different ages and interest levels, each branch has something a little different,” said Nemphos.

Teens are also invited to join in the summer reading fun. The teen program includes a bingo board of activities they can check off as they complete them, like “Attend a library program,”  “Go screen-free for the afternoon” or “Find a book that is set in space.” For each completed column on the board, participants can earn a special prize.

“The feedback we usually get from parents by the end of the summer is this program really kept them on track reading, that they actually found books they liked that they might not have found otherwise. It gave them, as a family, a goal to accomplish and to set and to keep coming in,” said Nemphos. “Since it’s incentive-based, it keeps the momentum going for the kids who might not like to read, and for the kids who do love to read, it’s just another added bonus for them.”