This blog represents most of the newspaper columns (appearing in various Colorado Community Newspapers and Yourhub.com) written by me, James LaRue, during the time in which I was the director of the Douglas County Libraries in Douglas County, Colorado. (Some columns are missing, due to my own filing errors.) This blog covers the time period from April 11, 1990 to January 12, 2012.

Unless I say so, the views expressed here are mine and mine alone. They may be quoted elsewhere, so long as you give attribution. The dates are (at least according my records) the dates of publication in one of the above print newspapers.

The blog archive (web view) is in chronological order. The display of entries, below, seems to be in reverse order, new to old.

All of the mistakes are of course my own responsibility.

Wednesday, June 13, 1990

June 13, 1990 - Summer Reading Program

I've been a father now for almost three years. In that time, I've learned a lot about the single most powerful influence on the parental mind: guilt.

On every side, the new parent is met with questions that seem simple enough at first, then get staggeringly complex. Should you use cloth diapers or disposables? Is it better to breastfeed or use bottles? Are playpens a simple lifestyle convenience -- or a sort of kiddie Auschwitz?

In some places I've lived, you almost had to get your children's names on the "right" preschool's waiting list before you got them home from the hospital. Is this academic one-upmanship, or sound educational planning? Then there's the BIG question: if both parents work, is the child going to grow up to be a serial killer?

On either side of these issues, there are hosts of persuasive experts, all citing alarming research. And as a librarian, I have to say that it makes sense to do a little reading before you make up your mind.

But guilt can go too far. A woman told me a story once that sticks with me. She and her mother were chatting when the woman's newborn child woke up and started crying. The new mom, desperate to do the right thing, started rapidly thumbing through one of the new baby Bibles to figure out what to do. The woman's mother, who'd raised six children, said carefully, "Put down the book. Pick up the baby."

I've met parents who march their children into the library the day after school lets out and announce, grimly, "Studies have shown that during the summer, children forget up to 80 percent of what they've learned in the previous year. And their reading skills can deteriorate by as much as a grade level." Then they sign up little Joan or Johnny in the Summer Reading Program in the name, I guess, of a higher grade point average.

What can I say? It's true. Children do forget a lot in the summer. BUT THAT'S THE POINT. THAT'S WHAT SUMMERS ARE FOR. Force a 6 year old to read so as not to lose an academic edge in the first few months of the next grade, and you will get a child who does not like the library.

But now that I've probably awakened all your guilt, let's put it back to sleep. Yes, I, a library expert, strongly recommend that you get your kids signed up for this year's summer reading program. Why?

Because they'll have fun! If kids read for just 12 hours over the summer -- and they can read anything they want, we'll give them fancy certificates, and PRIZES. And if you have children that are too young to read, then you can read to them for just six hours over the summer. They still get prizes.

We'll also have some other fun stuff. We'll have storytellers and skateboarding demonstrations. We'll have photography contests. We'll have air-conditioning.

So what are you waiting for? Take your kids out for an ice cream cone. Then, with great enthusiasm, say, "Hey, I just got a great idea! Let's go to the LIBRARY. I hear they've got some cool things happening this summer."

Sure it's good for them. But they don't have to know.

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