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...

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