Library programs throughout July feature rocks, rockets and rock 'n' roll for all ages

GORHAM — Staff at the Gorham Free Library really rocked out Wednesday with several great outdoor paleolithic activities for local kids, kicking off its version of the national summer reading program on a beautiful summer morning.

“This year's theme was 'Libraries Rock,' so I was trying to think of some creative things to do with that,” said librarian Ruth Freier. “It was marketed more for music, so when I heard 'Libraries Rock,' I thought fossils, minerals, rocks. We planned a program, my staff and I, called Rocks, Rockets and Rock & Roll.”

The rocks portion was this past week with a rock petting zoo by members of Finger Lakes Gem, Mineral & Fossil Club; dig pits with dinosaur treasures buried in sand-filled plastic kiddie pools; and a rock-painting station where the children could "make a friend" — culminating in a Paleontologist Picnic, with food donated by Wegmans.

“I'm just going to dig with my hands,” exclaimed an excited 5-year-old Thomas, casting aside a creatively crafted scoop made from plastic water bottles, enthusiastically attacking the sand pit. “I found the bottom of this thing.

“Oh, I found something,” he called out, pulling out a dinosaur egg. “And, there's something in it.”

“There's a little dinosaur in there,” explained Rob Nudd, one of four clerks at the library.

“Oh, I found two more dinosaur eggs,” Thomas beamed, jumping up to show off his treasures.

“Want to know what happens?” asked Freier. “If you put those in water, they grow and hatch — the marbled ones.”

Wearing an adventurer's hat and T-shirt featuring “Cars,” little Johnny joined in the fun.

Freier and her staff — also including Sheryl Saxby and Cheryl Paine — had put holes in the lids and bottoms of square Styrofoam take-out containers to make sifting pans for the junior archeologists on their dig.

A large book on “Fossils” was resting in the seat of a stroller, a temporary placeholder for the child it transported into the yard where Jen Webster was at the rock-painting station with her children, Sam, 6, and Gretta, 8, working on different designs.

“I'm making a cat,” proclaimed Gretta. “The cat's eyes are going to be humongous.”

Sam was busy painting a ladybug on his rock while Freier handed out stickers.

“You put your name and your rock's name on a sticker,” she advised, attaching one to the bottom of a small rock.

Each year, participating libraries design their own programs around the national theme in efforts to keep kids engaged with reading throughout the summer and prevent what is called the summer slide, where students can lose some of the achievements they gained during the school year from lack of use.

“Welcome to Dinosaur Dig Day,” Freier greeted visitors near a welcome table filled with books about rocks, fossils and the like.

She said every time someone checks out a book this summer, they get a ticket for a large raffle basket and other possible prizes that will be awarded at the Libraries Rock Magic and Talent Grand Finale Show at 10 a.m. Saturday, July 28.

“I look at it as a way to get kids excited about something they wouldn't normally be thinking about during summer,” said Freier, noting the library pulls books from its shelves and buys some based on the annual theme.

“We try to get the kids with 'Hey, we have rock books. We have mineral books,'” she said. “I find that hands-on experiences help reinforce what they're reading or gets them interested in reading about it.”

Stopping by to check in on the fun was Hope Decker, Pioneer Library System library liaison and youth services consultant for the cooperative of 42-member libraries.

“What I love about rocks is they all have a story,” she told Nikki Chase. “Especially if they've got fossils in them, they definitely have a story.”

Chase, a Finger Lakes Gem, Mineral & Fossil Club member, staffing its station with President Michael McElwee, kept her “Field Guide to Devonian Fossils of New York,” handy to identify any rock the kids — or Decker — wanted to know about.

“This is a Naticonema lineata,” she said, noting she found it while fossil hunting during an unexpected storm.

“I wanted to see all of the great activities that the library had for the kids and I'm a kid myself, so I love this stuff,” Decker said. “The exciting thing to me is here, in this small town, you've got this great quality educational opportunity that's fun. It's totally hands-on. Look at how engaged everybody is. That is what libraries are all about in a small town.”

To help with the summer reading program this year, Pioneer hired two college interns who are teaching kids science, technology, engineering, art and math through the science of sound and music.

Madison Russell of Canandaigua, a math major at Marist College, is very involved in her college orchestra and music in general. Decker said Russell loves sharing what she knows and is enthusiastic about bringing science, math and music to the library communities.

Drew Harper of Penn Yan is a computer science major at State University at Binghamton who is passionate about helping kids in rural communities experience science and computer programming.

“We are all about that too — giving kids the opportunity that their suburban and urban counterparts often have in abundance,” Decker said. “It's really important to come out to the libraries and do these programs.”