It’s been raining for three days. The Monopoly marathon disintegrated over accusations that the banker was embezzling funds. It’s so humid the glue won’t dry on the popsicle-stick bird cages, you’ve run out of plastic lanyard cord, and you know if you suggest leather crafts they’ll all gag. Their whining has moved from “I’m bored” and “there’s nothing to do” to “this place sucks.” What’s a camp counselor, playground supervisor, recreation aide, or coach to do? Well, head to your local library, of course!

Now hold on, don’t scoff at the suggestion, the library could be your life saver. It was mine for the four years I was a college playground supervisor at Drakefield Playground on Cleveland’s West Side. Drakefield had one tree, no water, no toilets, a basketball court we had to sweep every morning so that the kids wouldn’t cut themselves on shattered beer bottle glass, swings with no seats, and a ground of baked black tar. Between twenty to one hundred kids showed up during the course of the day, and a fair number of those kids were already there when I arrived at 8:00 AM. Many of the early birds had been locked out of their houses by working parents, for at that time we were the only “free” day care around. We had your basic cast of city playground characters: the sweet quiet kid with a shock of white blond hair and big blue eyes shadowing you everywhere, thumb in his mouth, his other hand clutching the edge of your T-shirt; the clique of twelve-year-old girls ogling shirtless high school guys playing a game of pick-up basketball; the incredible neighborhood Mom who let us give parched kids a drink from her garden hose; the cafeteria lady at the local school’s summer free lunch program who turned her head when we took extra meals for kids who hadn’t had breakfast; the tough, bright, leader-of-the-pack eighth grader who kept a rarely used knife in his back pocket, protecting the playground’s young and weak by slicing predators with cutting remarks, scathing stares, and a powerful presence; and, of course, your run of the mill drug dealer lurking around the edges of the fields, waiting.

The West Park Branch of the Cleveland Public Library was our life boat those summers. It had a bathroom. It had a drinking fountain. It was a great place to get out of the sun. It had story hours. It showed movies on Friday afternoon in its cool, dark basement. It had kind librarians who took pity on frazzled playground supervisors and sweaty children. It had books – books that had arts and crafts ideas, books that listed kids’ games and rules, books with nature and science information, books with stories that entertained hot, bored children. And it was all free for everyone.

So, exasperated summer counselors, volunteers, and coaches, check out what’s available at your neighborhood public library. You will find the help you need to get out from under the hot summer blues.

Summer Mentor Tips

The children’s department at your local library has books that will help you do your job well. Talk to your children’s librarian for help finding books on playground games, sports, jump rope songs, camping, arts and crafts, and all kinds of activities for little kids.

  • Always have books on hand to read aloud to your kids. All kids like to hear stories. If you do not know what books to read, just remember the stories you liked as a little kid. They’re still at your neighborhood library or bookstore. Your local children’s librarian can also help you find great read aloud books.
  • Take an old backpack and make it your story pack. Fill it with picture books from the library that you can read aloud. Keep a big box of chalk and crayons in it with a pad of paper. Add a pack of playing cards. Take your story pack with you wherever you go. Whenever your kids have to wait or are tired or bored, your story pack will provide entertainment and help you keep control of whatever situation arises.
  • Ask your kids to draw their favorite story character. Then have each of them tell a story about their character.
  • Host a “Celebrate Seuss Day!” Ask your kids to dress up as their favorite Dr. Seuss character and make up games based on Seuss stories to play all day. One game could be “Pin the Star on the Sneech.” Make up a team clue/hunt game and call it the “The Search for Solla Sellew.” Have “Cat in the Hat” relay races where the kids must balance items on their fingers and heads, just like the Cat in the Hat does in his book.
  • Produce a small scale informal summer play based on one of the kid’s favorite picture books. Make sure you give jobs to the kids who do not want to act. Some kids can be the business managers who make and sell tickets. Some kids can make the costumes and the props for the play. Some kids can be the stage managers. Be sure to invite family and friends to the play.
  • Have a song contest. Bring in a tape with selections of music from your favorite bands and have the kids select a melody and write new lyrics for the music. If you can, make a tape or a video of their performances. Many lyrics are rhymed so you may want to bring in a rhyming dictionary for the kids (available at libraries and bookstores).
  • Most kids have seen the movie Mary Poppins but few have read the stories in the original Mary Poppins books. Get the first Mary Poppins novel from your local library and read them some chapters aloud. Then you can have a Mary Poppins Festival. The kids can create side walk chalk art. They can have a joke contest with a laugh meter. And, they can make and fly their own kites.
  • Give each of your kids sixteen pieces of typing paper folded in half and stapled. They can use this paper to write a book and illustrate it, to keep a summer diary or journal, or to make a summer calendar and address book.
  • Play “Survival Island.” The day before you play, announce to the kids that the next morning they will be stranded on a deserted island. They will only be allowed to take ten things with them to the island. Whatever they bring must be able to fit in their backpacks. Because there will be no electricity or technology on the island, they must bring things to eat and things to keep them entertained and busy, one of which must be a book. Before they arrive the next day, designate an area of the playground, yard, or campground as the “Island” and mark it off with a rope or chalk. When the kids arrive, plant them on the “Island.” Divide the kids into teams and make each team responsible for 20 minutes of entertainment. Also, give each team paper and pencils to design a boat for their escape. The group as a whole can vote on which team comes up with the best escape plan and boat design.
  • For the littlest of kids, plan a Teddy Bear Picnic. Have your kids bring a favorite stuffed animal to the picnic. See if you can find a tape of the “Teddy Bear Picnic” song. Go to the library and take out bear stories. Winnie the Pooh, Paddington Bear, and Goldilocks and the Three Bears will all work. Your local children’s librarian can help you find more bear stories. Spread a big blanket out on the grass under a tree and give the kids lemonade and graham crackers. They will love it and you!
  • Take your kids to a big kid’s baseball or softball game. Teach them how to keep statistics. Help them pretend that they are newspaper reporters and give them press credentials and writing assignments. Then make your own version of “Sports Illustrated for Kids” and have them report on all the activities in your area related to sports. Your kids can also make illustrations to accompany their articles.

Remember when it’s hot and rainy and everyone is bored and crabby and you’ve run out of things to do – TAKE THE KIDS TO THE LIBRARY! Libraries are usually air conditioned. Libraries have stories and books. Libraries have magazines. Libraries have CDs, DVDs, and videos. Libraries have story hours. Libraries show kids’ movies. Have all the kids you work with get a library card. Introduce yourself and your kids to the children’s librarian. Get a library activity and event schedule and take your kids to some of the events. Remember, everything at the library is free!

© 2015 The National Children’s Book and Literacy Alliance