Each summer I impose a special kind of cruelty upon my children – a dreaded “no screens” rule for our long car trips. And when I say long, I mean 12+ hours of riding in the car. I had hoped that being screen-free would build their frustration tolerance and adaptability, and it definitely has. My kids’ journal, read, daydream and play car bingo to pass the time. We also stock up on loads of audio books from the library before our trips. These, more than anything, are the magic that gets us through. The kids love picking out titles, and I love that we have yet another reason to visit our library.

It turns out that books and audiobooks are not the only reason to head to the library. In fact, summer is a wonderful time to visit because there are so many extra and exciting resources for families to explore.

Reading challenges
Summer, with its absence of dedicated learning time, leads to what is known as “summer slide,” the loss of learning that typically occurs when kids are out of school for such an extended time. Reading is one of the best ways you can help your child avoid summer slide, and most public libraries offer reading challenges to help keep kids engaged with books.

This summer, Austin Public Library branches are offering the “Austin Completely Booked” challenge. Kids can log 10 hours of reading time over the summer and earn five “activity badges” by reading, exploring and creating in their chosen badge categories. Once the challenge is complete, the reader can claim a prize. (Adults can participate as well and earn adult prizes.) To join the Austin Public Library challenge, pick up a paper form from your local branch or sign up online at: https://library.austintexas.gov/summer.

Where can you go to escape the heat and also get a short respite from active parenting duties? To a library storytime! Almost all public libraries offer scheduled English and bilingual storytimes for various age groups. Some locations also offer storytimes in American Sign Language. You can relax on the carpet with your child as someone else reads a story. Then check out your own books to take home for later. Additionally, storytimes are a great way to meet other parents and kids of similar ages. You don’t have to be a member of a library to attend, so you might even want to explore storytimes all over town.

Fun physical spaces
If you haven’t stopped by your local library lately, you might be surprised to find that they no longer house just bookshelves filled with books. Many libraries now offer fun physical spaces that are a great option for filling summer free time. For example, our local library has a playground, complete with a sandbox and dinosaur sculpture that kids can climb on or through. Many branches of the Austin Public Library offer a “Lego Lab” where kids can build to their hearts’ content. Both the Round Rock Public Library and Cedar Park Public Library have planned ample, interactive outdoor spaces for their new libraries, which are projected for completion in 2023 and 2024, respectively.

While summer camps and enrichment classes can be costly, you can look to your local library to provide interesting and fun learning opportunities to keep kids busy. A quick online search of local libraries resulted in this selection of summer classes available to kids: knitting, meditation, writing workshops, magic workshops, book clubs, online game design, computer programming, crafting, cooking, chess and more. Best of all, these classes and workshops are free!

Special programming
Many libraries bring in special guests over the summer to offer exciting programming. The Round Rock Public Library is hosting the Austin Reptile Show where kids will have a chance to see live lizards, snakes and turtles from around the world. They also have a magic show, suitable for all ages, on their calendar. Check with your local branch for upcoming events.

Being a teen and avoiding boredom in the summer can be tricky. Many teenagers feel too old for summer camp, but they may lack access to a car or are considered too young to get a job. Libraries have done a great job of developing spaces and programming specifically for teens so that they feel welcome and valued year-round.

The Central Library downtown has a dedicated “teen area” on the third floor, reserved just for kids ages 13-18. Adults and younger kids are welcome to “stop in and take a peek around, or borrow a book, but all the seats, computers, programs and resources are reserved just for teens.” The Austin Public library also offers a teen-run magazine, teen-specific special events and a summer youth volunteer program. (The application deadline has passed, but the fall application is available.)

This summer, whether you’re gearing up for a long road trip or looking for ways to fill the long, hot days at home, stop in to your local library. You’ll be amazed by how many fun things there are to do, and you may just discover your new favorite place to be!


Alison Bogle is a writer living in Austin with her husband and three children. A former fourth grade teacher, she now enjoys writing about children and education. You can also catch her talking about articles from Austin Family magazine each Thursday morning on FOX 7 Austin.

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