Summer reading program combines books, fun to combat brain drain, boredom

Six-year-old Donovan Brown mimics the flight pattern of a flying robot featured in a video presentation on robotics from Nikolas Colom of the KU Robotics Club on Monday, June 24, 2013, at the Carnegie Building. Robots were the theme of the day at the activity, part of the Lawrence Public Library's summer reading program.

Nikolas Colom of the KU Robotics Club waits for his assistant to power up the propellers on a quadrotor robot during a presentation for 5- and 6-year-olds attending the library's Kidsapalooza activity on Monday, June 24, 2013, at the Carnegie Building.

Jessica McClanahan, 13, left, and Katy Walters, 12, apply pressure as ink is pulled across the screen during a screenprinting workshop on Friday, June 21, 2013, at the Lawrence Public Library. Teens attending the activity made t-shirts and learned about screenprinting.

Lawrence artist Leslie Kuluva prepares her screenprinting materials during a workshop for teens, Friday, June 21, 2013, at the Lawrence Public Library.

Summer in the City

The Lawrence Public Library’s 2013 Summer in the City summer reading program runs through Aug. 19. To download summer reading logs or find a complete list of related activities, go online to the library’s website, Logs also are available at the library, 700 New Hampshire St.

Imagine your 5-year-old suddenly enamored with the idea of reading books about science and technology, specifically robotics. What kind of scenario would precipitate this behavior?

A good bet is an hour with a cool college student who showed him or her videos of robots that swim, play catch and fly in formation — not to mention brought along a live, in-person robot with loud, whirring propellers.

Fun activities and books come together during the Lawrence Public Library’s summer reading program, Summer in the City. And for many Lawrence parents, it’s a lifesaver of a combination for getting kids out of the house and putting their brains to work while they’re out of school.

“Especially when it’s really hot outside, and you want something else to do besides letting them watch TV,” said Sarah Mathews, who took advantage of an hour to read a book of her own last week while her 5-year-old daughter, Alice Dorsey, attended the robot-themed Kidsapalooza activity at the Carnegie Building. “I love that they offer all this stuff, and it’s free, too.”

Summer in the City involves reading goals — you choose whether to read a set number of books or hours — and lots of in-person activities, some tied more closely to books than others.

This year’s plan for Kidsapalooza, a weekly gathering for 5- and 6-year-olds, aims to prevent “summer slide” by focusing on science, technology, engineering and math, said Rebecca Dunn, youth services assistant for the library.

“We’re really trying to engage kids,” she said.

Last week Kansas University junior Niko Colom, a KU Robotics Club member, and a few robotics-whiz friends managed to captivate a crowd of more than three dozen usually squirmy 5-year-olds with a presentation about robots.

Reactions to footage of KU’s people-seeking, pet-like, floating Mylar robot:

“It’s a balloon robot?”

“What the heck!?”

And then one soft-spoken girl: “Um, robots are made of metal.”

To this, Colom answers that they don’t have to be and shows the children a close-up view of a circuit board, the “brain” and sole metal part of this particular robot.

Afterward, a stampede of little feet headed for a nearby cart of books with titles like “Robots Among Us” and “The Three Little Aliens and the Big Bad Robot,” which parents could check out on the spot through a portable computer.

Shanon Black, of Lawrence, brought her 5-year-old son, Jonah Black, to the activity. Her older son, 7-year-old Atreyu Black, goes to a similar weekly activity for older kids, she said.

“I think it helps keep them abreast of the stuff they learned in school,” Black said.

Black and fellow mom Mathews said they both started the summer reading program with their children before the kids could read, reading books to them and filling out their book logs. Reading has become part of their bedtime routine, they said.

When it comes to teens, part of the goal is simply getting them inside the library.

Teen services librarian Karen Allen is totally OK with “trapping” them with cool activities — like a recent screenprinting workshop where the 20-some attendees got to print their own T-shirts — then pitching related books and summer reading logs.

A group of girls waiting for their shirts to dry talked about how easy it is to get bored over the summer. Their parents may be tired of shuttling them to and from the library, some said, but they’re sure glad there are books to read and other stuff to do there.

“We love the library,” 14-year-old Meredith Shaheed said.

“It’s our second home,” added Chantel Guzman, also 14. “If there was no library, I would die.”