April showers have given away to May flowers and now plentiful sunshine in June. School is out for the summer, and the students of Lexington are undoubtedly preparing for three months of traveling, swimming, exploring the outdoors, and, perhaps most importantly, reading. Traditional summer reading programs are a staple across the country, but this year Cary Library is implementing a new program designed to encourage reading while simultaneously teaching other 21st century skills.

This program, now known as Summer Learning, is more comprehensive and detailed than previous iterations of summer reading. In the past, children would simply keep track of how many hours they spent reading over the summer, and would receive a prize for every 10 hours of reading. Now, participants will work to earn seven different badges by completing specific activities. Each badge has 15 different activities associated with it, and kids will need to complete 10 of those activities to earn the badge, said Alissa Lauzon, Cary Library’s Head of Youth Services.

The program will run from June 15 through August 31.

The specific nature of the badges and activities differs from age group to age group, as the summer learning program is available to anyone aged 18 or younger. Badges are earned for broad categories like “play,” “explore,” and “create.” Participants will use a combination of technology, math, writing skills, and artistic vision to complete their badges. Discovering literature will remain a major part of the summer program, as every participant must earn a “read” badge as well, Lauzon said.

“Studies have shown that there is a decline in academic skills during the summer period when students are not in school. Our summer learning program is designed so that kids are reading, but also exploring math and science and using their critical thinking skills, all while having fun,” Lauzon said.

Each time someone completes a badge, they will earn a prize. Most of the time, this prize will be their choice of a free book from a prize cart. Sometimes, they will receive a free small cone from Abbott's Frozen Custard.

Students in the program will also have access to various summer learning kits that can be checked out of the library for up to two weeks. These kits contain things that might be needed to complete some of the activities that families may not otherwise have access to. The summer learning kits are an extension of the Library of Things, a system that allows residents to rent a variety of non-book objects, from telescopes to ukuleles.

Lexington’s population is diverse, and many families travel during the summer months. Cary Library’s program is designed so that students can participate from anywhere in the world, as long as they have an internet connection. Summer learning will run through Beanstack, a platform used by libraries and schools across the country for reading initiatives. Beanstack was initially featured on the popular CNBC show Shark Tank, where it earned an investment from Mark Cuban.

Summer is a critical time for students, who frequently experience what is known as the “summer slide.” This describes the academic regression that naturally happens when one takes three months off from school. Research suggests that students may lose up to one month of academic-calendar learning during the summer period, Lauzon said. Studies show that students who do not participate in summer reading programs tend to score lower on standardized tests at the beginning of the year compared to test taken at the end of the previous school year, Lauzon added. During the summer, reading and math skills are usually the ones that regress, the most, she said.

“To combat the summer slide, students should read something every day and reading should be fun, students should be encouraged to read things that they enjoy reading,” Lauzon said.