33 Winning Summer Reading Program Ideas

Summer is just around the corner, and it’s time to start finalizing your plans for your summer reading program. But even with all the time and effort you put into planning your programming,  it’s sometimes hard to know which events are most likely to draw a crowd and engage participants.

To help you figure out the most effective activities to bring to your community, we asked our audience to share their best summer reading program events. Read on to see what they said and to find some tried-and-true programming ideas to implement at your own library.

Partner Up with Hometown Heroes

  1. Kids sitting in firetruckOur most fun program last summer was free, educational and fun for everyone. We invited our Public Works Department to the library with some of their heavy equipment. We had a back loader, a snowplow and a giant leaf sucker. The kids were able to climb into the trucks, ask questions of the crew and examine the equipment up close. The kids and parents loved it, but the Public Works Department did too. The staff said they had a great time, and the director was so pleased that he wants to do it again this year, which we are more than happy to do! It was a great collaboration between the library and the Public Works Department.
  2. We had a week of community heroes. We are a very small town, and we reached out to all local law enforcement, the fire department, game wardens and the forestry department and invited them to come read and help with crafts. We treated them like the heroes they are. Kids had their pictures taken with these hometown heroes and learned all kinds of safety tips. Patrons and community leaders still talk about it.
  3. We did a Lunch with a Super Hero. The families got to come and have lunch (hero sandwiches, chips and cookies) with local heroes (police officers, firefighters, a WWII re-enactor, an EMT and a young man who got the key to the city and was honored at Metropolis, IL — Superman’s home town). Each hero told about their tools and brought their vehicles for the kids to enjoy.
  4. Every child in grades 1 through 5 who reads 25 books or more in our summer reading program gets a ride on the local fire truck. We do this every summer and the kids really get into it. The fire truck rides are given out at our end-of-summer reading party.
  5. For our summer reading kickoff, our local fire department came out and sprayed the kids. The kids loved it!
  6. I’m looking forward to kicking off our Summer Reading Program with our local fire department, as they have an open house and grilling going on! We can sign families up for summer reading and bring the whole community together at one big fun event, as we are located adjacent to each other.

Expand Summer Reading to Summer Learning

  1. In addition to the reading contest based on the number of pages read and recorded, last summer our library provided a little yellow booklet filled with a checklist of activities in categories such as community volunteering, crafting, adventures and experiments. If participants completed a certain number of activities from each category, a prize was awarded at the end-of-summer celebration. The activities booklet encouraged families to step outside the box of typical activities and got everyone in the family involved. It was a lot of fun and the kids were really proud of their checklists — a lot of big accomplishments. My kids helped neighbors with yard work, went on nature hikes in search of items, built towers out of items around the house, made artwork out of flower petals, helped with chores without being asked, measured items around the house with a ruler and designed paper airplanes with their dad. There were so many neat ideas on the list. It kept us busy and entertained.
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Go Where the Action Is

  1. My reading specialist and I created a good old-fashioned summer bookmobile for our students. If the kids couldn’t come to us, we would go to them! We loaded boxes of books in our own cars, took along coolers of freeze pops and set up outside of their neighborhood pools and community centers. Although we work in an elementary school, we had books for all ages, so that whomever approached received a book and a freeze pop. We did this three times throughout the summer and hope to extend it this summer!
  2. One of our most exciting programs last summer was a partnership with the park. We had drop-in activities there every morning.

It’s Full STEAM Ahead!

  1. I run a STEAM-themed Summer Reading Program. I plan a STEAM activity with a book tie-in. For example, we make slime and the book tie-in is Horrible Harry and the Green Slime.
  2. Our Messy Science program last year attracted a huge crowd of budding scientists who were eager to get messy! We met outside and wore clothes we didn’t mind getting dirty. Activities included melting chunks of ice to get to the dinosaurs inside, mixing up slime and bubbles, and a dramatic egg drop from a ladder to test our egg-holding containers!
  3. Our library divided the children into two groups. Each team was given a very large cardboard piece as their wall. Then they used cardboard rolls to make a marble maze on their wall. The team members worked together to create a marble run with at least two direction changes. It was a great STEM and teamwork activity.
  4. We did a cardboard arcade. Families made arcade games from cardboard and recycled items. They had to man the game and the library provided tickets, prizes and snacks. We had over 10 games, one being a twin mattress box made into a skee-ball game, and at least 75 gamers.
  5. Our Engineering Club last year was such a huge success that we had to open up a second session. Our favorite activities were making towers out of newspaper and masking tape and testing their wind resistance, and an egg drop where kids had to protect the egg but they also had to work within a budget. Can’t wait to do it again for summer 2018 with some music and geology activities for the “Libraries Rock” theme!
  6. We made solar ovens out of little pizza boxes and made our own s’mores for snack time. The kids were so enthused!
  7. For the “Build a Better World” theme, my library hosted a Silly Simple Machines contest where all ages built Rube Goldberg-style machines. We had an hour where we judged the machines and then an hour open for the public. This multigenerational program was open to elementary, middle, high school, adults and families, so everyone could participate. The machines built were incredible and the community loved coming out to see them. We posted videos of each machine on Facebook for those who missed the event. Every participant has asked for us to do it again this summer and we are thinking the machines should incorporate a sound element to fit the theme.
  8. During the Walton Erickson Public Library’s Digging for Treasure event, kids were able to sort through their excavated material using the homemade tri-pod sifter fashioned by employee Steven King. They found fossils and other artifacts, which they were able to take home.
  9. We have our library open on Tuesday evenings during the summer with planned makerspace activities each week.

Bring on the Magic Shows, the Animals and the Special Guests

  1. Last year’s SRP had the best attendance we’ve had in years. They loved Bat World and the chance to get up close to live bats. Animals and magic tricks are always a hit. The best was when our little library got a local retired NFL player to come and speak to the kids. He talked about the importance of school, showing respect and hard work. Very encouraging talk.
  2. My summer reading kickoff party is always our biggest program of the year! The library is always hopping. Last year, we had the elementary school jazz band perform, and then a fantastic big games and activity group called Knucklebones came — the kids were going WILD! We had so much fun playing gaga ball, walking on balance beams and bouncing on bounce-donkeys!
  3. My summer reading program started with a First Day of Summer Party with food, games and lots of outdoor activities. I had guest story readers, like Batman. I also had fun and exciting crafts all summer taught by a high school honor student, and we ended with a Solar Eclipse Party.
  4. My neighborhood public library has the best summer reading program. You can log your reading easily online and kids can earn prizes as they read. They also have fun events like a science show, a magic show, author visits and various singing and dancing performances. My kids went to the library every week and had so much fun!

Be Do-Gooders

  1. Cary Library in Lexington created a series of events under the umbrella title “Summer of Kindness.” Our programs included making no-sew fleece blankets and drawing get-well cards for Boston Children’s Hospital, making paper flower bouquets to be included with Meals on Wheels deliveries, decorating placemats for the senior services lunch program and creating our own public art installation with sidewalk chalk.

Focus on ALL the Literacies

  1. I held a Children’s Computer Literacy Class that met every week for two months. The kids were encouraged to work at their own pace but were also able to fill in gaps in their knowledge base. At the end, each child made their own poster to take home and received a certificate and a prize! While today’s kids may have more access to mobile devices, more than a few need help when it comes to creating documents and presentations on a PC.

Make an Impact through School

  1. Dollar Days Book Sale: Sell unneeded books from the library for 25 cents. For $1.00, kids get four books to read — a huge hit at my school.
  2. I usually have a book talk with my third and fourth graders — never, ever giving away the ending —preferably a series, so they will want to run out to the public library to read the series!
  3. We had a summer reading drive-by one year. We packed three to four books in bags and handed them out to families that drove by the school at certain times each week. The next week they would come back and exchange their books if they wanted new ones to read. They could also write on the bags and answer questions we wrote on them like, “What was your favorite part?” Very fun!
  4. I gathered multiple copies of the same book from other libraries, used bookstores and thrift shops. During the last week of school, I invited my high school students to come get a copy to read over the summer. When school started in the fall, we met during the first week during lunch to discuss it. I provided the lunch (with a yummy dessert, of course!) This was a simple, but very successful, summer reading promotion for my library.
  5. The most successful summer reading program at NagsHead School was an amazing district-wide summer read of Alan Gratz’s amazing book Refugee! Over 60 students showed up to learn about this book — fantastic collaboration with our local bookstore!

Go to the Movies, Go Camping or Have a Sleepover

  1. One of our Wilmington Memorial Library favorites — it’s so hard to choose! — is our Drive-In Movie Night! Kids (ages 3 to 5, with the help of an adult as their “pit crew”) make and decorate cars out of large cardboard boxes. Once the cars are made, we eat popcorn and watch short films at our own drive-in movie theater.
  2. Girl eating S'moreWe offered Camp Read S’more as a welcome to incoming sixth graders. Camp is offered for four days from 9 to 12. During camp, we read a book aloud and students have time for individual reading. We eat camp-type snacks like s’mores. We also do a different craft every day. By far, the most popular activity is charades using book titles. This year will be the third year we are offering camp. It gets better every year.
  3. We take the toy sleepover to a whole new level at our location! At the end of SRP, we have the toys sleep over for the weekend. The children have to fill out a permission slip with their toys, and we report what the toys are doing all weekend on our library Facebook page. On Monday morning, the kids can pick up their toys. We do a PowerPoint of what they did over the weekend for storytime. The toys get “party favors” to take home that go with the SRP theme. For example, last summer the toys brought home construction vests that my artist on staff, Colette Bezio, made individually for each toy! We also give everyone a sheet of the group photos from the weekend. (We are sensitive to folks who do not have the ability to get online.) We know this year, there will be a disco ball as part of the activities!


Liz Bowie

Liz Bowie

Marketing Content Manager at Demco, Inc.
Liz is the Marketing Content Manager for Demco. Her background includes editorial management and product development of innovative and time-saving tools for schools and libraries, with an emphasis on Common Core, literacy and math. The products she and her team have developed, including classroom games, learning centers and professional development resources, have garnered 46 industry awards for excellence in education. Liz is passionate about promoting literacy through her work and the work of others. If you are interested in sharing your ideas and programming tips on Demco’s Ideas and Inspiration blog or have ideas for topics you’d like to see covered, contact Liz at lizb@demco.com