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Summer reading programs around Pittsburgh combine online, offline worlds

| Wednesday, June 12, 2013, 9:01 p.m.
Conor Ralph | Tribune-Review
Melissa Steele, and son Ryan of Clinton, read a book at a Summer reading kickoff event at Western Allegheny Community Library in Oakdale on June 7, 2013. The kickoff included signing kids up for the Questyinz reading program.
Conor Ralph | Tribune-Review
Kids enjoy a magic show by Steve Haberman at a Summer reading kickoff event at Western Allegheny Community Library in Oakdale on June 7, 2013. The kickoff included signing kids up for the Questyinz reading program.
Conor Ralph | Tribune-Review
Amanda Kirby of Observatory Hill helps sign up kids for the Questyinz Summer reading program at Western Allegheny Community Library in Oakdale on June 7, 2013. Questyinz includes reading and online actives for kids and parents to participate in.
Conor Ralph | Tribune-Review
Kids sign up for the Questyinz Summer reading program at Western Allegheny Community Library in Oakdale on June 7, 2013. Questyinz includes reading and online actives for kids and parents to participate in.

Getting grade-schoolers interested in reading this summer no longer may mean that parents have to order kids to stay off their tablets, laptops or smartphones.

A summer reading program called Questyinz, which uses the Internet, books and self-guided activities or “quests,” is available to students in kindergarten through fifth grade at more than 50 Pittsburgh area libraries.

“A lot of libraries have used things such as reading logs that provide children with prizes when they complete a certain number of books or hours of reading,” said Kristin Rama, youth services coordinator for the Allegheny County Library Association.

“But over the past several years, there's been a greater realization that children are also interested in technology. This program is an effort to bring the online and offline worlds together in a summer reading program to help find ways to spark greater interest in reading.”

Children begin the Questyinz program by getting a game card from a local library and going online to select an avatar. They then read, write and complete discovery quests to earn badges and points for the avatar.

Started as a pilot program last summer at about 20 sites, Questyinz will be available this year to children at all 45 public libraries affiliated with the county library association as well as some libraries in Washington and Greene counties.

Joanne Stinson of Bethel Park, whose son Matt, 9, and daughter, Sammy, 11, participated in Questyinz last summer, said incorporating technology in school and library programs “is an absolute must” for today's children.

“My kids love to read and have been doing summer reading at the library since they were toddlers,” Stinson said. “But adding computers to the (reading) program got them even more active and excited about reading because the technology and the games are something they are familiar with and really enjoy doing.”

Questyinz helped the Green Tree Public Library increase participation in its summer reading program by about 30 percent when it ran the pilot program last summer, said Shannon McNeill, the library's assistant director.

“We've had success in the past with traditional summer reading programs,” McNeill said. “But they often rely on what parents are willing or able to do to help their children participate because of competing schedules, travel or competition from other activities.

“While we want kids to fully participate in the program by coming into the library, we realize that is not always possible. Questyinz allows them to be involved even if they can't do every part of it or are away on vacation.”

Studies have found that getting children involved in summer reading programs pays dividends.

A 2009 report by the Dominican University in River Forest, Ill., found that, among other things, students involved in summer reading programs at public libraries scored higher on reading achievement tests at the beginning of the next school year than those who didn't participate.

Adding technological components to a program can help children.

“When used intentionally and appropriately, technology and interactive media are effective tools to support learning and development,” said a report by the National Association for the Education of Young Children and the Fred Rogers Center for Early Learning and Children's Media at St. Vincent College in Latrobe.

Rama said one of the main goals of Questyinz is to help address the “aliteracy” problem, which means that while children may be able to read they sometimes lack the motivation or desire.

“A certain number of children will be fine if you simply provide them with reading materials,” Rama said. “But that doesn't necessarily work for reluctant readers. We've tried to overcome that by making summer reading a game that integrates online activities and ‘quests' that help them become more engaged in reading.”

Tony LaRussa is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7987 or tlarussa@tribweb.com.

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