The 4-H Summer Library program in New London County started seven years ago with a program at the Waterford Library. The program added a few libraries every year. This year 12 libraries in the county are participating.
Pamela Gray, the UConn Extension 4-H Educational Outreach Coordinator for New London County leads the program. Therese Foss, an Extension Public Service Technician; and Sara Tomis, a UConn student and summer intern, also work on the summer library program.
“COVID-19 forced us to create a virtual program instead of offering the program in-person at each library,” Pam says. “While we miss seeing everyone, shifting to a virtual program is allowing us to serve more libraries and impact a larger number of children.”
The theme this summer is Be A 4-H Brainiac. All the activities begin with the letter “B” and include breakouts, blazing bugs, breakfast nails, and buckle up eggs. Towns with libraries participating in the program include Colchester, Franklin, Groton (the library and the sub-base), Jewett City, Lebanon, Ledyard, Norwich, Preston, Sprague, Voluntown, and Waterford.
“The Waterford Public Library is pleased to partner with New London County 4-H again despite challenging times,” librarian Jennifer Smith tells us. “Many families have expressed interest and relief to know their kids can continue to participate in fun library STEM related virtual programming this summer.”
The summer library program lasts for 10-weeks. There are five activity kits and five breakouts, or virtual escape rooms. The activity kits and breakout rooms alternate weeks throughout the program. Each library received 12 kits that they distribute to youth. Waterford and Norwich received 24 kits each since their communities are larger. Children from ages five through 13 are participating at each library. The kits use curriculum from the National 4-H Council and the Junior Master Gardener program.
A parent shared, “The programming that you are offering through public libraries is fantastic. It adds some excitement to our week, and we are using the activities as a jumping off point for other projects, reading and fun. Thank you!”
“My favorite part about working with the libraries is that we bring a resource to them and their community that they don’t have,” Pam says. “As 4-H staff we have a skillset that many libraries don’t, and it’s a great partnership that brings new resources to the library and introduces other audiences to 4-H. We also reach a different community with the library programs than we do with our club-based programs.”
The libraries have found that this year’s virtual program has brought new participants that normally don’t attend programming. Smaller libraries have increased their participation level as well; in the past, they would have six or seven participants in-person, but with a virtual program are able to give out all 12 kits.
“We’ve really had a lot of success with the take-and-make program concept, and this has been an exceptional one that I certainly wouldn’t have been able to put together on my own,” says Frances McGrath of the Trumbull Library in Lebanon. “I’ve got people coming in who normally wouldn’t come to the library, which is how you know you’ve got a winner. This has been great and the flexibility it allows for has been really positive.”
Libraries receive their kits each week. The library then distributes the kits to the children. Drop off and distribution follow social distancing guidelines. Each activity takes about 20 minutes to complete, and youth join the Facebook Live video on the UConn 4-H New London County Facebook page on Wednesday mornings for their instructions.
“The Facebook live session creates a sense of community,” Pam explains. “It opened the program up so that youth participating see how many others are involved. I’m already working with the libraries on a hybrid model for next year so that we can serve as many children as possible. We’re also planning to keep the breakout rooms going once per month during the school year.”
The breakout rooms have three skill levels, easy, medium and hard, giving all ages an appropriate activity. The free Breakout educational app enhances math, science and reasoning skills and is popular with teachers.
“We greatly miss our classes with the 4-H teachers, who are always enthusiastic, well-informed, and engaging with school-aged children,” says Marguerite Rauch of the Subbase MWR Library in Groton. “We highly value all that New London County 4-H brings us and our Military Community via the 4-H Military partnership. The children love their 4-H summer Library programs, and they always fill up fast. This year was no exception. Summertime is when military families typically move, so our summer programming is often the way we meet new families and welcome them to the Library. This is the sixth summer I have worked with 4-H, and they rose to the challenge and created a full summer of activities to keep children busy, having fun, and learning, which is what libraries are all about.”
UConn 4-H is the youth development program of UConn CAHNR Extension. 4-H is a community of over 6 million young people across America who are learning Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM), leadership, citizenship and life skills through their 4-H project work. 4-H provides youth with the opportunity to develop lifelong skills including civic engagement and healthy living. Learn more and enroll your child in the UConn 4-H program at http://4-H.uconn.edu/.
Article by Stacey Stearns