As kids, parents and teachers alike begin to enjoy their summer in the sun, the area branches of the Baltimore County Public Library are again offering a different kind of summertime fun.
Sneaks the Cat, the library's summer reading program mascot, embarked on his 27th summer journey earlier this week to encourage children of all ages to read during their break from school.
The library's eight-week program began June 17 to help kids maintain, if not improve, the reading comprehension skills they developed during the school year, said Elizabeth Rafferty, a youth services specialist for the county library system.
"I'm pretty sure that all the research we have shows that kids show a drop in learning over the summer if they stop doing their activities," said Melissa Gotsch, branch manager for the Catonsville Library.
"It's to keep up that learning, so they're ready in September," she said of summer program's goal. "Also, it's fun."
Last year, there were 48,539 registrants for summer reading in the county, according to Rafferty. That continued a four-year trend in which the program has set a new record each year.
There were 26,944 registered for this year's program even before it began earlier this week, she said.
More than 2,400 participants registered for the Catonsville Library's summer program last year
In addition to the standard summer reading game board, the Catonsville Library is offering weekly scavenger hunts that coincide with the summer reading theme, "Dig into Reading."
"At Catonsville, it's our 50th anniversary this year of the building being built," Gotsch said. "So we're doing a couple of extra little things.
"For summer, we're doing digging through Catonsville history," she said.
Though the summer program is geared more toward kindergarten through eighth-graders, teens and preschoolers can also register for separate programs specialized for those age groups. Students can register online or in the library at 1100 Frederick Road.
Participants receive a game board with 16 lines on which they write the titles of each book they read or each reading activity they complete throughout the summer.
"It's all reading, so it's like read your favorite magazine, read a chapter of your favorite book, read for 15 minutes outside, read to your pet," Rafferty said. "It's just a variety of reading. Or they can read a book and that replaces any activity."
Once they complete four reading activities, kids receive a sticker. Once they amass four stickers they can pick from a prize ranging from a light up spinning top to a monster projector pen to a beach ball.
To receive their game boards, stickers and prizes, participants must come to the library. Both Gotsch and Rafferty agreed that, while more and more children are doing their reading on computers, tablets and smart phones, it is still important for them have the in-person experience libraries offer.
"I haven't seen it affect summer reading for kids," Gotsch said. "They want to come in person. They want to get books in person. They want to see librarians.
"We've been to every area school and the librarians are welcomed with open arms and the kids get really excited," she said.
"Even the eighth-graders, who are too cool for everything, come in and ask for the books that the librarians talked about," she said.
"A lot of parents give their kids a tablet to keep them occupied, where as in the past they might have given a coloring book," she said. "So we lend out titles for the iPad."
"Reading is a huge part of technology and if they (students) don't have proper reading and comprehension skills, they aren't going to be able to use their technology very well," she said.