Summer has finally arrived, or at least school is out. With all this rain and destruction, I am not sure many people feel like we’ve actually hit summer just yet. There are a lot of people who need help and many, many volunteers working toward recovery after the floods.

Moffett schools lost their school library. Please consider donating a gently used or new book to help them rebuild before the fall. Children need books! My good friends, Sara and Jennifer, the owners of Bookish (Brunwick Place), are serving as a drop-off point for people making donations. While you are at it, take your child(ren) and pick up a copy of their Summer Bingo reading card. Buy a book — support a local business. Donate a book — support local children. It is a win-win situation.

The other night when my daughters, Julia and Jamison, were gone, I asked them a question in a group text and that question led to a long conversation that mainly included Jamison “yelling” her sister’s name in all caps — JULIA. I laughed so hard that I want to yell pretty much everything. So, I am yelling this at you — CHILDREN NEED BOOKS!

A couple of months ago, I mentioned the Dolly Parton Library, an amazing program started by Dolly Parton to get books into the hands of children in her home county. Our local program is run by the United Way and is free to any family with a child between the ages of birth to five years. Both of my girls participated and loved receiving a book each month. SIGN UP YOUR CHILD! If you don’t have children, donate $25 and you can support one child for one year.

Now that school is out, it is easy for children to sit in the house all day and play on electronics. It is a battle I face on a daily basis with my children. Just this week we took a trip to Austin. At several points along the way, I made them take breaks from their devices. They could read, talk to me, or just stare out the window. While we talked about where to eat, what to do, I found myself saying, “Julia, Google that.” She looked at me and said, “I can’t be on my device, remember.” Oh yes! It is crazy when you think about how much of our lives are tied to those handheld gadgets.

While more parents are becoming aware of the “summer slide” — the loss of reading comprehension that occurs when children do not read over the summer — the number of children not reading at all in the summer is increasing, according to Scholastic Books. In addition, the number grows as students age. Their research indicates that by the time a struggling reader reaches middle school, the summer slide cumulatively equals an almost two year lag behind peers. Furthermore, there is an obvious gap among socioeconomic levels. Students who come from families with a higher income are less likely to suffer from the summer slide than children in households with a lower income. Access to books is obviously a huge factor. Lack of access to the school library or ability to get to the public library means no books for many children while school is not in session.

When I was growing up, my grandfather was on the board of directors for the Logan County Public Library. If you are not familiar with Logan County, it is a sprawling county with county seats in Paris and Booneville and includes Scranton and Subiaco. Because this is such a rural county, it was impossible for many people to travel to the library, so the library went to them in the form of the Bookmobile. It has been years since I thought about how much fun it was to visit the Bookmobile and pick out books.

There is a fascinating article on onlyinark.com about the history of bookmobiles in Arkansas. While the majority of libraries in Arkansas retired theirs years ago, some such as the Conway public library have revamped the bookmobiles and put them back on the road. Cabot and Beebe school districts have gotten into the practice and use their traveling libraries to promote summer reading. 

Too often we, as a society, think that our fancy new technologies make old practices obsolete and unnecessary. It happens in education and it happens with libraries. It is nice to be able to sit in my house and access our public library to read a book online or do research. But, those families who cannot afford internet or get their children to the library lack access to these amazing services. I often tell people when they visit my school that, with the exception of some modernizing, we pretty much do things the way Maria Montessori did them in the early 1900’s. Because, it works! There is nothing wrong with mixing the old and the new.

If anyone wants to start a bookmobile, I volunteer to drive! Now, get off your device and go READ A BOOK!

Jessica Hayes is the director of The Montessori School of Fort Smith. Her column, Education Today, apears the second Friday of each month. Email jhayes@fsmontessori.com or tweet @fsmontessori.