Exercise your mind: Summer reading programs work on mind — and body

Emanuel Cornelius, 6, of Moline, takes a jab at his pairing partner Finn Milner, 3, of Rock Island, during a sword-fighting lesson for kids on Wednesday, July 6, 2016, at the Rock Island Library.

Not all healthy challenges involve barbells or running shoes — exercising your mental muscles can be as easy as cracking open a book.

“There's ample evidence that, like a muscle, the mind gets stronger the more we use it,” says Lisa Lockheart, Rock Island Public Library publicity and outreach liaison.

“Reading builds pathways and connections in the brain, not just at the very important brain-building years from birth to 5, but for life,” she says.

The benefits are great. Reading can improve memory, focus, empathy; reduce cognitive decline and stress; boost positive thinking and help with building friendships.

Reading also helps combat learning losses that can happen when kids are out of school for the summer, which also is known as the summer slide. Public libraries allow literature lovers to tap into an almost limitless supply of mind fuel, and the summer is a fun time to increase reading as they roll out programming to keep kids and adults turning pages.

The Rock Island Public Library will kick off its Reading by Design-themed summer programming on Saturday, June 10 in the Rock Island Main Library parking lot, 401 19th St.

The free event will include games, food, a bounce house, face painting, spinner and string art, science activities and summer reading registration.  

The Reading by Design Summer Reading Club will begin that day and run through July 15. In it, kids will use a reading log with activities, and teens and adults will get punch cards.

“Everyone reads what they want,” Lockheart says. “The important thing is just to read.”

As participants meet certain reading goals, kids will receive prizes varying from temporary tattoos to craft kits. Teens will be entered into drawings for prizes, and adults will receive foam stress hammers with an entry into a drawing for a grab bag. There also is a family challenge.

Many of the Reading by Design summer program activities focus on making, creating and STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) learning, which sometimes is referred to as STEAM with art added into the mix.

Activities will include science experiments for kids, a building challenge for teens and a wreath craft for adults using recycled book pages.

Last year's theme was On Your Mark, Get Set, READ, which focused on reading and activity. Adults got moving on Motion Mondays with yoga, tai chi and belly dancing, as well as a Bookin' It Walking Book Club, where participants walked together while talking about books.

“We have found the community is interested and attuned to building healthy bodies and healthy minds,” Lockheart says.

Lockheart notes that libraries are offering more to help people create and connect, and the library promotes its materials to help enhance any programs they provide. With yoga, for example, DVDs, books and streaming yoga programs through the library's Hoopla digital content service are all accessible to patrons.

Nicole Terronez, of Rock Island, is an in-home child care provider who visits the library at least once each week with the children in her care, and has been an avid reader herself since she was a child.

“It takes you into a different world for a minute. It is soothing,” she says, adding it helps with stress relief.

“I think it does trigger something in your brain because it relaxes you.”

Stephanie Thornton, of Rock Island, also is an active library patron. She moved to the area a decade ago, and one of the first things she did was get a library card.

“There's nothing like finding that sweet spot where a book is concerned,” Thornton says. “The sweet spot is where everything else drops away and you're engrossed in the story.”

Thornton says the library's reading challenges are satisfying — you could discover a new-to-you genre you enjoy, and participating is a great reason to make more time for reading.

Mary Masters, of Milan, is a past summer reading program challenge winner who reads about 10 books a week year-round, and usually visits the library twice a week to get her fix.

A car accident left her with activity limitations, and she is very grateful she has always loved reading.

“It helps my mind, helps my body relax,” she says. “That's what I need. It has helped me immensely.”

Lindsay Hocker is an occasional Radish contributor. For more information about the Rock Island Public Library's summer reading program, visit rockislandlibrary.org or call 309-732-7323.

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