MANASSAS, VIRGINIA — Keeping kids occupied each summer while schools are not in session can be a challenge for American families. Many summer activities cost money, but the public library is one place where children and teens can enjoy activities free of charge.
Giovanna Sauchek and her children are frequent visitors to the Bull Run Public Library in Manassas, Virginia.
“We come here for books all the time,” said Sauchak, who is from Colombia. Her children, Daniel and Laura, are here to attend the Spanish Circle. “I want them to get involved more with the Spanish speaking people.”
The weekly sessions, which feature stories and songs in Spanish, are among the library’s most popular programs this summer.
“It's a lot of fun, a lot music, a lot of movement, a lot of crafts for the people to do,” said library spokesperson Nancy Schleh.
Other programs include Sidewalk Chalk Day, when children decorate the library’s sidewalk with their chalk drawings, and reptile shows which feature snakes, lizards and other animals the children can touch while also learning about their life cycles.
“You can see a lot of children here, children playing with our toys and literacy items," Schleh said. "We have a puppet stage. Their parents come to use the computers. We have a children's computer they come to use.”
The library also offers special programs for teens where they can write their own songs, learn to play chess, or build structures with Legos.
“We will provide thousands and thousands of Legos for teens to build whatever they like to,” Schleh said.
Isabella Hyden, 16, one of 30 teenagers who signed up for the Lego challenge, is trying to build a Japanese pagoda. She has signed up for a number of other library activities, too.
“I’m going to do this cupcake thing, you learn to decorate your own cupcake," Hyden said. "I’m going to this one circus workshop. You learn to juggle; you learn to do some of the circus things that they do.”
Planning for the summer programs begins in September and the library staff is open to suggestions from the community.
“On occasions we get emails from folks saying, ‘I have a great singing thing I put together for kids. I’m going to send to you a demo-tape, if you like me, would you please let me into your library?'” said Mary Tompkins, with the Prince William County Public Library System.
Beyond the singing, drawing and building with Legos, Tompkins says summer reading programs remain the most popular for kids of all ages. Local businesses offer prizes for kids who read a certain number of books.
“This year we had 70 businesses donate over $1 million in coupons and incentives for the kids,” she said.
There other rewards for children who read during their summer vacation.
“The point of that is not really the prize; the point is to encourage children to read over summer to maintain their literary level," Schleh said. "Research has shown that during summer some children fall behind up to two months. They lose that skill.”
Whatever activity they choose, Tomkins says the overall aim of library summer programs remains the same. “The whole goal here is to keep the kids engaged so that they become lifelong learners.”