Skid steers – the dirt-moving machines commonly known as Bobcats – are not usually playthings.
However, on July 9 more than 50 children got a once-in-a-lifetime chance to climb into the cockpit of a real skid steer and play around. They weren’t told to keep their hands to themselves. On the contrary – “grab the joystick!” was a common suggestion from parents who were busy photographing the sheer joy on their kids’ faces. Before kids lined up to play in the Bobcat, they listened intently as Jeff Blair and Luke Rades from Birch Equipment read a book aloud through a megaphone.
The play date was part of the weekly Dig Into Play Dates program offered by the Whatcom County Library System at Blaine Public Library. Heading into the fifth week of the 10-week schedule, the activities have been a hit with local families this year, according to program director Cindy Leffell.
“We’ve had at least 50 kids and parents show up to each event,” Leffell said. “It’s hard to predict numbers beforehand, but
rain or shine a lot of people show up.”
Each Tuesday event starts out with a read-aloud session, often led by a professional who has come to demonstrate their line of work. A team from North Whatcom Fire and Rescue will read a book on July 23 before showing off their fire and rescue vehicles. Members of the Blaine Police Department will read a book (and the Miranda Rights) before kids get a chance to sit in a real patrol car and operate the lights on August 6. The following week, on August 13, Bruce from Sanitary Service Company will bring his garbage truck and read a story. Finally, kids will have story time in a bus when the Whatcom Transit Authority comes to Blaine Public Library on August 20.
“Parents read aloud to their kids all the time, but seeing a professional from the community read a book really makes an impression on the kids. It demonstrates how important reading is for any profession,” Leffell said.
Marci McCarthy has been regularly bringing her boys, six-year-old Kyle and three-year-old Isaac, to the Tuesday activities.
“We’re glad the library offers these programs over the summer,” she said. “Toddler time (another library reading program) is offered during the school year, but we don’t operate on the school calendar, and Kyle’s kind of outgrown toddler time. We have fun at these events; we’re looking forward to reading on the bus.”
Sandy Rasmussen and her four boys are also regular participants.
“It’s been great,” she said. “I love that it gives the kids a chance to experience something they wouldn’t normally get to do.”
For Leffell, the unique demonstrations and playtime are great, but they’re beside the point.
“The best part is that the 50 kids who were out here playing on the Bobcat are now inside the library checking out books,” she said after the Bobcat was put away.
She was right. The library was packed full of kids clamoring for books to read and check out.
Promoting literacy is the main goal of any library, and that mission doesn’t end with the school year. Regan Robinson, public
services manager for the Whatcom County Library System, said the Dig Into Play Dates program is part of a free summer reading program offered every year. This year’s theme is “Dig into Reading,” and the goal is to encourage kids to read every day of summer break.
“Kids can get a reading log from their local library or print one off from our website. They log each day they read, and if they read aloud to a person or a pet, it counts as two days. There’s a prize for participants who reach 50 days, and there are about 70 days of summer vacation,” Robinson explained.
The Dig Into Reading club meets Wednesdays from 10:30 to 11:30 a.m., and much like the Dig Into Play Dates program, various events and activities are worked into the schedule to keep kids interested in reading. A bring-your-own pet fair is scheduled for Wednesday, July 17, and a LEGO show-and-tell is scheduled for Wednesday, July 31.
“Kids love the LEGO show-and-tell,” Robinson said. “Building LEGOs is usually a solitary activity, but it’s great when you can share your creation with others.”
The benefits of the activities and the reading club are numerous, and include time away from computers and time socializing with other kids, Robinson said.
“The biggest benefit is that it promotes the practice of reading. Like any skill, reading takes practice, and it’s easy to lapse a little over the summer break,” she said.
Why is reading so important?
“Reading is one of the primary ways we gain understanding in this world. It’s how we share information with others and educate ourselves,” Robinson said.
Dig Into Play Dates events occur on Tuesdays from 10:30 to 11:30 a.m. The Dig Into Reading club meets Wednesdays from 10:30 to 11:30 a.m. Both programs are free, and take place at the Blaine Public Library.
For more information about the program visit wcls.org