My Turn by Marian Lytle: Summer slides in unusual places

  • Posted: Sunday, June 2, 2013 12:02 a.m.
    UPDATED: Sunday, June 2, 2013 1:29 p.m.

Traditionally summer has been considered a time of freedom for kids and school age students. Homework is over, tests are taken and book bags put away. Playgrounds, pools and parks welcome herds of enthusiastic and energetic children while parents recuperate from a year of worry about assignments getting turned in, lunches getting packed and uniforms kept in compliance.

But traditions are changing and parents are worrying more and more about their students’ ability to sustain their academic skills during the hot days of summer. Articles proclaim the fear of summer slide: the statistical phenomena that students who are not actively engaged in learning during these brief months will return to school several academic steps back from when they left in the spring. International Reading Association and Reading Is Fundamental both caution parents not to allow this time in a child’s intellectual growth to be wasted. State School Superintendent June Atkinson was so concerned that she began a campaign, “Give Five, Read Five,” to ensure that all public school elementary students have something to read this summer and not slide.

But perhaps there is another image of summer slide that could be created in Rowan County. When climbing a slide, regardless of height the climber anticipates the thrill of descent. They sit on the brink of vaulting themselves into the wind and weightlessness. An element of adventure accompanies the entire process, and most often the slider rises from the bottom to climb to the top and repeat the whole process. What if learning could be approached with such enthusiasm? What if a school-age child could choose the height of the slide, the length of the ride and the way they want to sail down? Would that child not want to do it over and over with enthusiasm that only a child can muster? Giving a child the freedom to explore and choose what they want to learn and in what format would be an empowering experience for a growing mind.

Where can children experience this unique and self directed slide? That amazing and ever changing slide is free and open six days a week to everyone in Rowan County. That slide is the Rowan Public Library. When a child enters the doors of these buildings, they stand on the brink of exploration and adventure. The knowledgeable library staff is ready to lend a helping hand in finding the right ladder to climb, book to read, video to view, book on tape to hear and suggesting new ones to try. Children select from an amazing collection of age appropriate materials that cover everything from prehistoric creatures to space exploration, scary stories to laugh out loud antics, in formats ranging from comic like graphic novels to Websites that are interactive and accessible from home.

Empowering children to choose what they want to learn and read is vital in making the slide exciting. The freedom to choose the length of the slide (the thickness of the book, number of pictures, a book on tape, a video) encourages these enthusiastic explorers to take ownership of the adventure and will ensure that they want to return over and over. The only limit should be on the number of items a parent or adult wants to check out and the availability of the material. Reading together or listening to recorded books together provides a great opportunity to share the adventure and practice the art of collaboration and compromise. An essential skill on the playground and in life.

Parents and caring adults who provide these opportunities will definitely enable their child to maintain their academic skills over the summer months. Students will return to the classroom recharged and ready. Come to the Rowan Public Library this summer an essential community resource for life long learning. Join the herds of children who will be climbing the ladder and sliding into learning. Now that’s a summer slide to remember.

Marian Lytle is public services manager for the Rowan Public Library.

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