The Rush of the Reading Challenge
Library incentive programs get kids excited to read
Alot has changed since today’s parents were kids, thanks in large part to technology. From elaborate gaming systems to endless streaming TV and handheld devices, there’s now tons of competition for kids’ time and attention. Despite this, one thing that has remained the same over the years is that kids love to read, making libraries central and enduring institutions in our communities. And to keep kids excited about reading, most libraries offer an array of programs, including ever- popular reading challenges. The Ridgewood Public Library’s Reading Marathon has been an annual event for almost 30 years, typically drawing around 3,000 participants. Run by the “Friends of the Ridgewood Library” with the village’s pre-elementary and middle schools, kids are encouraged to submit reading logs to a library committee, which entitles them to prizes as they reach certain levels and makes them eligible for grand prizes the more they read. Though the prizes are great, including free ice cream, pizza parties and Visa gift cards, the rewards aren’t necessarily what makes this competition so popular.
“The marathon gives kids a chance to set their own reading goals and attain them in a very friendly, encouraging environment,” says Ashley Loria, the library’s children’s department supervisor. “It shows them that they can do anything they set their minds to.” In addition to personal satisfaction, the challenge shows kids how fun reading can be. “Even when reluctant readers see other kids get excited about reaching different levels, that excitement is infectious and it encourages other children to keep going,” adds Loria.
Since reading almost any type of print counts toward their goals, including magazines, comic books or sharing a
morning newspaper with a parent, the challenge shows kids how often reading pops up in their lives.
“All the things kids love online or on TV started within the pages of a book,” Loria says. “It’s our job to show them they can find that excitement by reading and not just by jumping online.” Though she admits the incentives add to the excitement of the challenge, the kids have fun regardless of the prizes, which is why so many of the library’s programs are so popular.
“The library events offer a sense of community and connection with other people that you can’t get from social media,” she says of programs like “Read to a Dog or Cat,” story times and even their Zumba class for kids, where books about exercise are displayed on a nearby table. “We try to relate everything back to reading and make it exciting even when there are no prizes,” Loria says. “The real reward is not winning something, but actually enjoying the time you spend reading.”
At the Mahwah Public Library, older kids can join the teen department’s “Winter Reading Challenge,” which has run every year for the past decade. “Last winter I used a bingo board format and kids had to readead a certain number of hours to complete mplete a square,” says senior teen librarian arian Denise Jukniewicz. “Some of the he squares have special challenges,s, like writing an online review or doingng community service, so even reluctant uctant readers aren’t discouraged from m joining.”
Participants in the program can win prizes ranging from local businessusiness coupons to Game Stop gift cardss and iPad minis, but the challenge is popular for more than just those incentives. “I can’t lie, the prizes do attract them,” says Jukniewicz, “but we have a lot of kids who really just love coming to the library and love reading. They’ve grown up coming here and taking part in the programs and they still enjoy doing that.”
The teens can also participate in the statewide summer reading program, a challenge that’s really popular in Mahwah’s children’s department as well, drawing more than 500 children in 5th grade and below last summer.
“New Jersey is a member of The Collaborative Summer Library Program, which runs the summer reading program, so all of the state’s libraries
“THE LIBRARY EVENTS OFFER A SENSE OF COMMUNITY AND CONNECTION WITH OTHER PEOPLE THAT YOU CAN’T GET FROM SOCIAL MEDIA.” Ashley Loria Ridgewood library children’s department supervisor
have access to their resources,” says Caitlin Siciliano, Mahwah’s children’s librarian. “They provide a theme and clip art, but each library gets to interpret and run it in their own way.”
Mahwah’s library has kids log their reading online to get points based on how many pages or books they’ve read. “When they hit a prize point they get a notification telling them they’ve won something and they can come to the library to pick it up,” Siciliano says. “But there’s not a certain number of books kids have to read. It’s about setting personal goals.”
And those personal goals are what keeps the program exciting, Siciliano believes. “Kids get so much satisfaction from setting goals and reaching them,” she says. “And children really do love reading, so they naturally want to participate in something that nurtures that.”
West Milford children’s librarian Theresa McArthur runs a popular Winter Reading Club for her school-aged children, where kids read books from five categories, including one published the year they were born, one about their favorite topic and a mystery book. Each child gives McArthur a report on the books they’ve completed, which enters them into a drawing to win tickets to a show at Morristown’s Mayo Performing Arts Center.
The motivations for joining the challenge, she feels, are mixed. “Some kids just get excited about the incentives but I truly think most of the kids who join really love to read,” says McArthur, who believes the key to getting kids reading is not in the prizes but instead starts at home.
“Parents who prioritize reading and bring their kids to the library are the real reason why these programs are popular, because without that guidance those kids wouldn’t be here, whether there are prizes or not,” McArthur says. “I really believe kids love the library programs because they have parents who encourage them to read.”
FUN TIMES Kids enjoy a recent Marathon Kick-off event at the Ridgewood Public Libraryy that featured a show called Mad Science Up-Up and Away.
CREATING A COMMUNITY Ridgewood teens volunteer to read to younger kids in a StoryTeens Storytime afterschool session at the library.