Community resources promote literacy, education and family fun at KDL

Summer is here but before we know it, it will be back-to-school season. The Kent District Library (KDL) has many tools for school-readiness, including Booster Packs, GoPacks and other items available for checkout to assist families with early literacy. 

Ashley Smolinski, Kent District Library branch outreach and programming specialist at Cascade/Caledonia Branch, says KDL’s tools for young readers all focus on supporting educators, education and the journey of literacy. 

“This is a natural literacy complement to what schools are doing and what families are doing at home,” Smolinski says. “We provide materials for kids to be able to grow as readers.”

In 2018, KDL launched their successful Mission: Read! Booster Packs, which were developed to support children in kindergarten through third-grade. “Each one includes games, books and activities that parents can do at home with their kids," Smolinski says. "Part of our reason behind developing them was in response to the Read [By] Grade Three Law, a Michigan law that says every child needs to be reading at third-grade level by the end of the school year.” 

These Booster Packs were curated to help improve specific reading areas including fluency, phonemic awareness, phonics, vocabulary and comprehension.

“Each kit has been designed to focus on the beginning level of the school year,” she says. “If a second grader were to pick up a second grade kit, the books are at the level of the first and second month of that school year, rather than the end of second grade level. We wanted to make sure that kids were able to read easier levels first and work their way up to harder ones. It’s much easier to check out a third grade level book a little bit early, rather than to frustrate a kid who thinks they’re at third grade level but have that pack be too difficult for them.”

Courtesy Kristina Bird, Bird + Bird Studio

Before launching the Packs in all branches, with a total of 494 available across the Library network, Smolinski says they sent out materials to several principals and teachers ahead of time — and they loved the concept.

Rather than categorizing Booster Packs by genre, they are organized in the same way that schools provide help to students via an Individual Reading Improvement Plan (IRIP), says Smolinski. 

“An IRIP is almost like a report card,” Smolinski, a former teacher, says. “If a teacher gave a child a note to work on vocabulary, then the parents can come to the library and pick up those supplemental resources.”

Outside of the KDL network, other libraries see the value in their unique Booster Packs as well. “We shared our Booster Packs at the Michigan Library Association Conference and we had 23 different libraries that were interested in offering something similar in their libraries,” Smolinski says. “[It] was a nice compliment ... that others were interested in having something like Booster Packs in their own communities.”

KDL also has reading games available for youths and families, which can be used to help students meet their individual reading requirements, or serve solely as educational fun. Smolinski says these easy, grab-and-go kits are designed to be appropriate for children, and to support parents, teachers, tutors and anyone needing supplemental materials. 

Courtesy Kristina Bird, Bird + Bird Studio

Another available checkout item for early readers are VOXBooks. Smolinski says this resource lets children be in charge of what they’re listening to/reading. “It’s a book that has audio in it that can help kids develop fluency and comprehension,” she says. “They can plug it into headphones. I’ve found that my kids really love them on car rides. It’s another really helpful tool of literacy that parents can use.”

Smolinski says VOXBooks are popular at area branches. “There are many times when we don’t have many to choose from because everyone has checked them out already.”

KDL also offers launch pads, similar to an iPad, but without any ads. “They’re an educational type of tablet for kids, pre-loaded with games — literacy-based games, science games and more,” Smolinski says. “They’re also tailored for ages and grade-levels with ... critical thinking, math, etc. in different subjects.”

Aside from self-contained Booster Packs, KDL also features the Library of Things, with their Beyond Books Collection. “We have GoPacks, which have games and activities in them,” Smolinski says. “Kids can check out a Nintendo Switch, families can check out Wi-Fi hot spots and more. We even have ukuleles people can check out.”

Beyond Books items include birdwatching backpacks, goPro cameras, iPad Air 2, stargazing binoculars, trekking poles and more — great for family adventures doubling as indoor/outdoor learning opportunities. 

Whether families are looking for help with early literacy, maintaining reading levels or other educational and entertaining activities for the summer, KDL has ample resources available for the community. 

Literacy Matters is a series focused on the importance of knowledge, community resources seeking to remove barriers to access, and the value of our library systems to society. Literacy Matters is supported by Kent District Library. 

Sarah briefly lived in Grand Rapids years ago, before moving back to Lansing, but that West Michigan love never really left her heart. Through her coverage on small businesses, arts and culture, dining, and anything mitten-made, she’s committed to convincing any and everyone -- just how great the Great Lakes state is. Sarah received her degrees in Journalism and Professional Communications. You can find her in a record shop, a local concert, or eating one too many desserts at a bakery. If by chance, she’s not at any of those places, you can contact her at [email protected]
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