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Washington County Free Library offers "Race to Read" for kids this summer

Washington County Free Library offers "Race to Read" for kids this summer

May 17, 2002|BY KEVIN CLAPP

kevinc@herald-mail.com

Jeff Ridgeway reads to, and with, his two young daughters.

The simple ritual represents the surest illustration of that old adage about practicing what you preach.

You see, Ridgeway administers the Washington County Free Library summer reading program and knows the best way to spark a reading frenzy is to engage youngsters in reading early and often.

Next month, the program that enticed 1,860 youngsters to read last summer returns with programs geared toward kids and pre-teens.

The goal: Making reading fun, not a chore, and fostering literary habits that will carry into adulthood.

"We feel the reading club can be a critical component to help children maintain their reading level over the summer months," says Ridgeway, children's librarian. "We also want it to be fun for them. We do want them to want to do it. It's a fine line. You want to lead them in that direction and you want them to learn to love reading."

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The program is simple enough. Kids younger than 10 get a Race to Read game board featuring mascot Sneaks the Cat surrounded by a variety of transportation options - planes, boats, cars.

As kids complete each of 24 activities, there is a space for adults to initial, signifying completion. Activities range from reading for a set period of time to reading about a vehicle that flies, floats or rolls.

In the Say What? program for ages 10 to 13, activities are a bit more intense, geared toward completing a variety of book styles - fiction, nonfiction, biography and poetry. The program also includes Internet components that require participants to search the Web for information.

Prizes, including Hagerstown Suns tickets on Aug. 24, are given as kids complete portions of the program.

Sign-up for the summer reading club begins Monday, June 10, and is followed by a kick-off activity with crafts, storytelling and a stock car from Hagerstown Speedway Wednesday, June 12, at the 100 S. Potomac St. branch of the library.

Last year, the 1,860 participants included 939 6- to 10-year-olds; 678 children ages 5 and younger; and 243 10- to 13-year-olds.

Not surprisingly, reaching out to older children is the greatest challenge for Ridgeway. Older kids have more demands on their time, and parents who may have been more proactive in promoting reading at a younger age don't keep up the effort.

Ridgeway says parents have the ability to shape their children's reading habits.

"If a child sees a stack of books on your night table, they'll say 'Gee, if it's important to mom and dad ...'" maybe it should be important to me, he says. "If a parent doesn't like reading and doesn't put much energy into it, odds are the children won't."

With families everywhere experiencing a time crunch as more and more activities crowd their already busy schedules, making time to read or visit the library could easily fall by the wayside.

But Ridgeway says the effort will be well worth it.

Besides, sometimes a trip to the library can unearth hidden treasures unavailable in the retail world.

"Things go in and out of print so quickly nowadays," he says. "You can actually find some really cool books you couldn't necessarily find in a bookstore."

For more information about Race to Read or Say What?, call the Washington County Free Library Children's Department at 301-739-3250, ext. 132.

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