Friday, June 26, 2020

Windham Public Library’s Summer Reading Challenge goes virtual

By Elizabeth Richards

The Windham Public Library is presenting a full slate of summer reading activities for children, teens and adults this summer.  This year, all programs will be held online. The summer reading program, with the theme “Imagine Your Story,” runs from June 22 to Aug. 22, 2020.

The reading program will use an online platform called Beanstack, as well as the library’s Facebook page, You Tube channel and, for teens, Discord.

In Beanstack, participants can find activity lists and track their progress to receive virtual badges that qualify them to be entered into prize drawings at the end of the summer. Paper copies of the activity ideas and reading trackers are also available.

For children, there is a program for kids who are not yet school aged and another for kindergarteners through sixth graders. Participants need to complete a set number of tasks to receive a prize at the end of the summer. 

Younger children will need 15 badges, while the older children need 25 to receive the prize bag, which will include a book and some other small items, said Children’s Librarian Samantha Cote.
Children’s programming will also include the typical preschool Storytime on Monday and Thursday mornings, as well as Books and Babies on Tuesday Mornings. special activities for children are also offered in the summer.  On Tuesdays, Lab Coat Adventures will feature science programs.  Wednesdays will alternate between a craft program and building challenges.  Finally, on Saturdays, the library offers the Calm as a Critter program, which features calming activities like breathing exercises, simple crafts, relaxing activities and a personal challenge.

For the interactive programs, Cote said there are some make and take bags available at the library. 
“We tried to plan them all to use materials that people would commonly have at their house,” she said, but if families need them, the bags contain all the supplies needed for the entire summer. Those bags are available for all the programs except the building challenges. 

For building, Cote said, “I’ll probably be using Legos, but people can use whatever they have at home.”

The make and take bags can be picked up at the library, either inside or as part of their curbside service, which can be requested by calling the Children’s Room.

Two stand-alone Zoom programs for kids will also be offered this summer.  On Monday, July 6, Sharks4Kids will present a program on the world of sharks, and on Thursday, July 30, Marine Mammals of Maine will present one about seals. To participate in these programs, contact the Children’s Room for the Zoom link.

A Beanstack account can be created at  Families can create one account with multiple readers in the account. There is also a smartphone app available. 

Designing an entire summer program online had challenges, Cote said. In the summer, they’ve historically offered a lot of interactive programming.

“Trying to figure out how to still make an active and engaging program without the personal contact was hard,” Cote said.

It was important to keep up the summer reading challenge tradition, she added, to provide some sense of normalcy and give families new ideas.

“If you’ve been quarantining for a while, you might have gotten into a routine and maybe you’re starting to get a little bit bored,” Cote said. “Now, through our different programs you can get ideas of new things to do and try.”

One popular summer activity in the month of July has been to hunt for the rubber chicken hidden throughout the library.

“This year we partnered with Parks and Rec and the Presumpscot Regional Land Trust and our chicken is being hidden at some trails around Windham so people can still get the joy of hunting for the chicken while also enjoying some of the trails we have,” said Cote.

This is just one of the activities that can earn a badge in Beanstack.

The teen program includes tracking reading, writing book reviews, and Blackout Bingo.  Summer Reading program events for teens will be held on Discord. Teens must sign up for the Discord server by filling out a form at  Discord events will include Make it Monday, Teen Movie Tuesdays, Wellness Wednesdays, Teen Anime Thursdays, and Escape for the Weekend Fridays.  Details can be found on the library website.

“I tried to balance out social screen time and active time with activities teens could learn and do quickly at any time,” said Teen and Emerging Technology Librarian Cassandra Lull.

She also created a teens’ only closed Discord server to provide a safe place to chat, discuss interests and host online programs, as well as creating a teen specific Instagram account so they see information that only pertains to them.

“I hope to start cultivating the idea that the library isn’t just for kids and adults, but teens have a place here, too,” she said.

For the adult reading challenge, Reference/Technology Librarian Ray Marcotte has designed five tasks that incorporate the theme and Maine’s Bicentennial.  There will also be three online events and attending one of these is one of the five tasks.

On Tuesday, June 30 at 6 p.m., New England Author and Humorist Tim Caverly will present “So You Think You Know Maine” via Zoom.  This presentation will also be aired on the library’s Facebook page.

On Wednesday, July 29, a Maine Bicentennial Concert featuring Bilodeau Family Music will air at 6 p.m. via their YouTube channel. A link will be posted on the library website on the day of the event.
Finally, on Wednesday, Aug. 5, USM History Professor Libby Bischof will offer a visual history of Maine via Facebook Live on the library’s Facebook page.

Marcotte said it was a challenge to figure out how to present the events, but it’s working out.  “It’s definitely not the same, but we’re making it work,” he said. 

Marcotte has been doing virtual book group and Socrates Café for months now, he said, with decent participation.

For more information about any of the summer reading challenges and events, visit <

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