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Reading is one of the most important aspects of childhood education. It is at the root of most things a child will learn from early childhood through their late teens.

That is why it is so important to continue reading education, even after school lets out for the summer.

Angela Arnold, general manager of OverDrive Education headquartered in Garfield Heights, and Erica Marks, outreach and programming manager at the Cleveland Public Library, both run programs to make sure children read the proper amount during the summer.

The Cleveland Public Library will host its annual summer reading program from June 7 to July 31. It asks children to read at least 10 books throughout the summer for a chance to win a prize.

Everybody who completes the program, which is themed “World of What Ifs,” will win tickets to the Great Lakes Science Center in Cleveland. There are also other chances to win prizes, including virtual raffle tickets.

“We are exploring different prompts and we are using our imagination,” Marks said. “So, some of our weeks may be like, ‘What if I was a book character? What if I could time travel?’ So, we’re actually going to, by way of various activities each week, explore those weekly prompts through writing, STEM and digital art activities. And those activities, because of the pandemic, will take place online on the library YouTube channel.

Marks said those programs will be available on-demand, but will happen at 1 p.m. every Monday through Thursday.

OverDrive provides a digital reading platform called Sora, which ensures every child has access to the right books, Arnold said. OverDrive sells books on the platform to schools, and those schools then add the books to their curriculum or library. The platform comes with free content and schools can customize their digital collection of books to meet their student population.

The program is digital, which means students can access these books virtually from anywhere.

“I have two teenagers and their screens are surgically attached to their hands,” Arnold said. “They live with their phones all the time. I think that as 21st-century learners, they’re very conversant with digital technology and words on a screen. That is what they consume all day long. So, Sora is there wherever the kids are. If they’re at home, they’re in school, if they’re in a computer lab, if they’re with the teacher, Sora is available wherever they are.”

Marks said there are a few reasons why kids should continue reading during the summer.

“In general, we always want to prevent the summer slide,” Marks said. “The summer slide is when we see kids kind of fall off if they’re not engaged in some type of learning activity throughout the summer. Reading can definitely help keep kids on track, so when they return to school in the fall, they’re not too far behind.”

Marks added that the exact kind of books aren’t as important as reading itself. As long as kids read whichever books are interesting to them, there will be benefits.

“The important thing is that kids read,” Marks said. “Especially with this past year, with the pandemic and kids being out of school. Of course summer reading is always highly encouraged. But this year, it’s even more important because we want to keep kids engaged and learning as much as possible, because we don’t want to see too much of an academic fall.”

Arnold added, “It is also important to note that a lot of folks think that they have to read a particular reading level or a particular subject. But really, reading for pleasure, especially fiction, is going to enhance critical and creative thinking. It’s going to enhance problem solving skills and all sorts of things that are needed come fall. It not only helps preserve those skills, but it also leads to lifelong learning because they’re learning to love reading, which is a lifetime of success.”

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