To the Moon and Beyond: Summer Programming Inspirations for 2019

Lunar themes, storytelling, STEAM initiatives, and more ideas for summer activities at the library.

Maximkostenko/Getty Images

Lisa Brandenburg is preparing for summer by borrowing a space suit and securing a traveling exhibit of lunar items. Why? 2019 is the 50th anniversary of the Apollo moon landing, and the Bellmawr branch of the Camden County (NJ) Public Library (CCPL), where Brandenburg is senior youth services librarian, has declared 2019 the Year of the Moon. She’s planning summer programming accordingly.

The moon landing anniversary dovetails nicely with the Collaborative Summer Library Program’s (CSLP) 2019 theme, a Universe of Stories, which many U.S. libraries are using to shape their summer activity slate. Brandenburg has received training and certification to handle lunar samples brought back by astronauts, which will be on view this summer at the library, a recent recipient of a NASA@MyLibrary grant.

Other libraries planning for summer are focusing on community partnerships, STEM programming, and school library connections, while a new horror reading list and vendor apps aim to keep kids reading. Here’s a sampling of what libraries have in store.

Planetary aspirations

Space-themed programming was also a hit last summer at CCPL, Brandenburg says, with successful, replicable craft programs including re-creating photos taken from space and making a galaxy in a jar with paint, glitter, and cotton balls. Other libraries planning lunar-related initiatives can find resources at NASA’s STEM Engagement page, stocked with ideas for educators. Dawn Collins, youth services director at the Madison County Library System (MCLS) in Canton, MS, plans to use the Astro Camp curriculum, which includes a traveling planetarium open to kids, tweens, and teens.

Photo: Getty/jonathansloane

This summer, teens at the Southwick (MA) Public Library (SPL) will learn about life in space, thanks to a traveling program from a local science museum. Visiting presenters will discuss the challenges astronauts face while in orbit and how they overcome them, according to young adult librarian Heather Paparella. “Museum staff will bring in tools that astronauts would use for attendees to try out, such as a Geiger counter,” she says. “They’ll also bring a tile from a space shuttle to show how it resists combustion and will demonstrate how certain objects behave in a vacuum.” To sweeten the program, Paparella may serve freeze-dried astronaut ice cream or taste test “old-fashioned astronaut food in tubes.”

At Deschutes (OR) Public Library, preschoolers will make cosmic connections through a science storytime, says community librarian Chandra VanEijnsbergen. After reading books about space, VanEijnsbergen will share a basic introduction to the universe, stars, and planets and will lead an interactive demonstration of planetary and lunar orbits. Activity stations will include one for making moon craters by dropping pebbles on a flour-covered baking tray, along with a “design-a-universe” table where contact paper placed sticky-side up acts as a background for “felt stars, planets, rockets, and other celestial objects” that children can play with. Kids ages six through 11 will explore meteorites with activities that Amy Koester, learning experiences manager at Skokie (IL) Public Library, featured on her blog, “The Show Me Librarian,” including “a hands-on observation of meteorites using different types of chocolate bars,” VanEijnsbergen says. The candy serves as a substitute for meteorite samples so kids can identify layers and patterns and learn other skills of scientific observation.

Retired Chicago Bears player Charlie Brown at a Chicago Public Library branch.
Photo courtesy of Chicago Public Library

Sports heroes & STEM connections

In a city with a strong athletic tradition, the Chicago Public Library (CPL) has begun working with retired players to read aloud to kids and lead STEM activities with youth. In 2018, former Chicago Bears player Charlie Brown worked in two of the library’s branches as part of a pilot project “to see if we could build capacity” going forward, according to Elizabeth McChesney, CPL director of children’s services and family engagement. “Mr. Brown showed us that this is a mutually beneficial relationship for retired players and library kids, so we are working to scale it [for summer 2019],” she says.

Thanks to a partnership with the local 4-H group, SPL will again host a popular bottle rocket program. “The students design their own bottle rockets, launch them, and then alter them to see if they can design them to go farther,” says Paparella. “It fits the [2019] theme perfectly!”

Meanwhile, virtual reality programming that explores new universes will also be part of SPL’s offerings. Through community connections, Paparella will bring in HTC VIVE and Google Cardboard technology for teens to try.

For little ones, the Eastgate branch of the Chattanooga (TN) Public Library (CPL) will host a kindergarten readiness program called Explorers, in keeping with CPL’s annual summer theme of “Make. Play. Read. Learn,” says Ana McCranie, head of public relations. “It starts off with a book, and kids move to four centers that tie in to the book or theme,” she says, with each center engaging kids in a 10-minute activity. For example, “for the Ocean theme we will read Benji Davis’s The Storm Whale, and the centers will be Make: fish craft with weaving; Play: kinetic sand; Read: draw a picture of a pet you want and where you would keep it; and Learn: sink/float experiment with boats and pebbles.”

A Nerd Camp that Collins is launching this winter break will continue into summer with STEM and maker events. Youth will try their hands at podcasting, stop-motion animation, robotics and coding, digital music, tabletop and video games, and more.

Kids use pastels to re-create photos taken from space at a Camden (NJ) Public Library program.
Photo courtesy of Camden (NJ) Public Library

Putting the “A” in STEAM

Universe-themed explorations will meet art at SPL this summer, where the children’s and young adult departments are connecting with a local mosaic artist. Kids will create sun catchers—transparent, colored mosaics—in keeping with the CSLP theme, along with other projects using the mosaic technique. “[The artist] uses Plexiglas rather than glass to keep [the program] safe for all ages,” Paparella says. She is collecting a variety of universe-themed arts and craft programs for teens on her library’s Pinterest page, such as galaxy T-shirts, ideas for a glow-in-the-dark party, and galaxy bath bombs.

Filmmaking will be part of the MCLS tween and teen summer activity slate, says Collins, who’s planning a 48-Hour Film Festival. “Students will compete to script, film, and edit a short film in 48 hours,” she explains. “Each group will be given the same genre, props, and lines of dialogue that must be part of the film. The films will be judged, and at the festival we will screen all the films and announce the winners.”

A video project piloted by CPL in 2018 as part of a broad effort to fight the summer slide will be offered again. “We encourage children to make and submit small videos of them taking part in the three tracks of [CPL’s Summer Learning Program]: Reading, STEM Discovery, and Creation,” McChesney says. The library received around 100 videos last year. “We believe in the research that shows that reflection is needed to close the learning loop,” she says. “[The videos] show how 21st-century learners can access technology to promote their own learning.”

Over the summer, CPL will also pilot a series of parent workshops, says McChesney. The goal includes highlighting partnerships and content connected to the Museum of Science and Industry and the Art Institute of Chicago. McChesney wants to “help parents feel that they are empowered and capable of initiating, championing, and celebrating their children’s learning.”

School library access

While participation in summer reading programs has been proven to help students avoid the summer slide, “children who would most benefit from participation in the library’s summer reading challenge, those who were at increased risk for summer slide, [are] also the children who had the highest barriers to access,” says Katie Cerqua, youth and family services manager with the Virginia Beach (VA) Public Library (VBPL). A conversation between the library and the local school system’s Title I coordinator led to a partnership where Virginia Beach youth librarians brought books and programming to elementary school libraries throughout the summer. Last year saw the addition of a sixth grade school campus to the program, which led the library’s teen services librarians to create a separate, tech-focused curriculum. “In 2018 we served 11 Title I schools, offering 93 individual programs,” says Cerqua. Attendance has grown from 200 in 2013 to more than 700 in 2018.

Photo courtesy of Virginia Beach (VA) Public Library

Each child receives a free book as part of the summer reading challenge. Cerqua reports that based on DRA (Developmental Reading Assessment) scores, the annual success rate, defined as participants who didn’t experience summer slide, has been between 61 and 67 percent. More than 3,000 books have been given away at school libraries since the program’s start. Kids also receive a free meal and snack. “This initiative is addressing both hunger and educational needs,” says Cerqua.

Horror, apps, and a smart night-light

The Horror Writers Association (HWA), in partnership with United for Libraries, Book Riot, LJ, and SLJ, is developing Summer Scares, a reading program to provide libraries and schools with an annual list of recommended horror titles for adults and young people, to be selected in February. Author Grady Hendrix and a committee of four librarians will recommend three fiction titles each for middle grade, teen, and adult readers. Some Summer Scares authors will appear, virtually or in person, at public and school libraries for free.

Vendors are rolling out summer reading–relevant materials, too. Zoobean, which in November released its annual summer reading report, with details on summer reading loss, library program participation, and more, recently completed the prototype for a smart night-light and reading tracker called the Hourglass. The idea of the hourglass-shaped light is to time and track reading at home with an accompanying app. Zoobean cofounder Felix Brandon Lloyd calls the concept a “FitBit for reading”  ( Zoobean also released a mobile app last May to track reading and participate in reading challenges.

OverDrive’s fifth annual Summer Read program incorporates Sora, a reading app for students that facilitates access to ebooks. It features notification tools, reading tracking, and achievement badges.

This year, OverDrive’s Summer Read program will make available eight titles with unlimited simultaneous access to participating schools. Juvenile titles garner more than half of the checkouts, notes David Burleigh, OverDrive director of brand and marketing communication.

How is your library gearing up for the summer? Let us know in the comments section of this article. Happy planning!

April Witteveen is community librarian at the Deschutes (OR) Public Library.

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