Libraries offer cure for summer boredom

Thursday, July 15, 2004

Though summer will last a good while longer, parents and children already are preparing for the upcoming school year. Now is a good time to get the kids back into reading, says Elizabeth Figa, University of North Texas assistant professor of library and information sciences.

"The best way to keep children and youth interested in reading is to look at different genres of literature and be willing to experiment with different media," Figa says. "You don't have to stick to the classics and it may actually be a good time to focus on different genres."

By different genre, Figa means anything from pop-up books for small children to graphic novels (what might be described as stylistic comic books) for teens. The goal is to capture their attention for reading and the need for encouragement to read is especially great for young boys, Figa says.

"I really try to encourage parents to get their boys to read," she says. "On the whole children are being drawn away from reading by video games, DVDs, other media and outside activities, but this is especially the case for boys."

Figa feels two other populations could benefit from the reading programs offered in public libraries: single parents and bilingual parents.

Texas public libraries often offer extensive Spanish materials for parents to read to their children. These institutions also offer programs and support for single parents who are often overwhelmed.

Figa suggests an unconventional way to start using your local library: Consult the librarian first for assistance to determine services that may be of use to you and your children.

For instance, some libraries offer lap-sits for parents of infants - reading groups in which parents take turns reading stories to the infants.

"Reading to babies early in life has been proven to be effective," Figa said. "Plus these circles are great opportunities for parents to socialize with each other as well as entertain and educate their children."

For children who are between toddler age and the teen-age years, libraries offer numerous storytelling events throughout the year. Figa says that while these events are more oral in their presentation, they do inspire kids to want to read more about the stories and their subject matter, or find similar stories.

"The focus is on the idea of the pleasure of reading. These events can get children on their way to reading more," she adds. "Kids today have so many things vying for their attention and this is a way to immerse them in stories."

Another unique venue for teens are poetry slams, in which libraries create a café-type setting for teens to read their poetry. The slams tend to have a Hip-Hop-style that's informal; anyone can stand up to read and  have their work judged by just about anyone in the audience.

In addition using the resources of the public libraries, Figa suggests parents consider private book store chains as well. Often these chains will offer special book signings, readings, storytelling and programs geared toward children of all ages.

Finally Figa says the thing to remember is to read together. While many parents read to their children when they're young, Figa suggest that they shouldn't stop when puberty sets in. If they no longer want you to read to them, read alongside them, she says.

"You can start out reading to them when they're little, alternating between you and them reading between, and finally reading alongside them as a family," she says. "But the goal is to do it as a family and reinforce the habit. Many adults get so busy they forget the pleasure of reading for themselves."

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