The Creative Way One Maine Library Is Helping Kids Fight the “Summer Slide”

Clear backpacks at Carver Library are labeled by theme, including music and author Richard Scary.
Image Source: Sarah Cottrell

I don’t know about you, but I’m already scrambling for things to keep my kids busy (and their brains working) this summer. Let’s be honest: There’s only so much running around the yard or perfecting their cannonballs that a kid can do before boredom sets in. And of course, there’s the question of “summer learning loss” that experts talk about every time this year — when a break from daily lessons sometimes leads to the loss of academic skills or knowledge.

But at least one local library in Searsport, Maine is hoping to help kids stave off that summer learning loss and keep them reading all summer long. And they’ve come up with a pretty creative way to do it.

It’s (unofficially) called “the backpack project,” and library director Katie Hessler says her team at Carver Library devised the brilliant idea as a fun way to keep kids’ reading skills sharp and their creative sides engaged.

As part of the project, the library offers free backpacks stuffed with fun activities that encourage learning, which patrons can check out just as they would a book. Each backpack has a unique theme and includes books, movies, games, and other fun surprises inside. And because each backpack is made of clear plastic, kids can see what each one holds before they decide to take it home with them.

While the activities inside are mainly geared toward kindergarten through 4th-grade reading levels (ages 5 to 10), they pack a serious amount of entertainment for the whole family — which has made them a big hit so far.

An armchair is covered with books and activities included within one of the backpacks from Carver Library.
Image Source: Katie Hessler

“The backpack project started just before I came on board,” Hessler tells Babble,”[and was] created by our wonderful volunteer Betty Schopmeyer, and has grown to include 17 backpacks.”

Hessler also tells Babble that the bags are not cheap to put together, even though they are totally free to the public.

“The backpacks cost about $100-$150 to put together, but they go out for free to library patrons for two weeks at a time, just like our books,” she explains.

The themes of each backpack are varied, and range from cats, dinosaurs, bugs, and outer space to remarkable women throughout history and even popular children’s authors like Richard Scary. (Talk about an amazing collection!)

“Some of our favorites are the new Ashley Bryan backpack, featuring his books and a kit for making marvelous puppets from recycled materials,” Hessler tells Babble. “[There’ also] a cooking backpack, with kid-friendly recipes and a cute apron and set of kid-sized cooking utensils.”

There’s even a backpack with a state park pass tucked inside, which Hessler says admits a group of up to 17 into most state parks for free, and even includes maps, local guides, sunscreen, and bug spray.

Amazing, right?

Needless to say, the program has been a great success with community residents.

“It’s a great way to quickly select a bunch of materials that make learning and reading fun and collaborative,” Hessler shares. “The kids love picking them out [and] they’re also very popular with patrons who have grandchildren visiting. They circulate higher on average than individual titles in our children’s collection … a considerable feat!”

More books and activities cover an armchair from one of the backpacks from Carver Library.
Image Source: Katie Hessler

But for parents who want to encourage their kids to keep reading, learning, and exploring all summer long, but don’t have access to a library with a program like this, Hessler has some fantastic advice.

“It’s all about preventing the ‘summer slide’,” she explains to Babble. “Research shows that reading as few as six books throughout the summer can prevent such regression, but even that can be a struggle for some. My advice is to make sure reading is fun, not a chore. Rather than choosing from a prescribed list, let your kids gravitate toward books that engage and excite them.”

This summer, I’ll definitely be taking Hessler’s advice to heart in my home, and making sure reading stays a fun and central part of our time off from school.

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