Meet our 2024 Library Foundation Award honorees.

Summer Learning Challenge: When Curiosity Sparks Creativity

Ever the inquisitive child, the library encouraged Mia to look at the world with curious eyes.  She asked, read, and asked some more. Now, she’s turning her questions into stories.

Summer Learning Challenge

Miya’s Summer Learning Journey 
Back in 2012, little Mia had so many questions. And she looked to the library for answers. “Every day, my mom and I would walk to the Albany Park branch, and I’d just read all afternoon,” she recalls. Soon enough, Mia had become a regular fixture at the children’s library. Almost all the librarians knew her by name. “They would greet me when I come in. They would also suggest books that I could read. Or sometimes, I’d ask them,” she says sheepishly.
One summer’s day, Mia and her mom Jean, noticed a group of young children huddled in a corner, playing and singing. “It’s the first day of the Summer Learning Challenge,” Ms. Rebecca, the children’s librarian, explained. “The staff were nice enough to sign Mia up that minute. She has been participating in the program for five years now,” Jean tells me.
The library has become Mia’s summer camp. “I grew up here,” Mia beams with pride. Chronicling her summer learning journey, Mia recounts how she would read as many books a seven-year-old could muster. “Over the summer, we have reading goals, and we try our best to achieve them. But because the books and activities are fun, they did not feel like a chore at all. Summer Learning Challenge motivated me to read more.”
And that’s the idea! CPL’s summer program is much more than reading—it’s active learning. “I played outside with friends. I tried Harry Potter-like science experiments (which were super cool!) I participated in musical workshops. My sister and I even joined some field trips!” Mia exclaims.
The Summer Learning Challenge has a wide array of activities for children of every age and learner type. Every year, there’s a different theme that engages children physically, mentally, emotionally, and socially. This summer, it’s Explorers at Play. Kids 0-13 can understand the science behind their favorite sports, learn about eating healthy foods, and practice living an active lifestyle.

Throughout summer, kids can create, discover, explore, play, and read their way to learning in and out of the library.

The Adventure Continues
Inspired by her summers at the library, Mia started penning original short stories. She transformed Albany branch into a magical world. Library friends became warriors, wizards, and princesses−central characters to her tales. Now, 12, the aspiring writer is expanding to graphic novels. She is creating new universes, imagining original heroes, and curates her own adventures.
To further hone her craft, Mia attends writing workshops and joins contests. But she will forever be grateful to where it all began – a hot summer’s day at the library.

“I learned two important things during the Summer Learning Challenge: Ask questions and use our imagination,” she explains animatedly.

Chicago Public Library Foundation

These are lessons she has taken to heart as she develops her writing.
This year, Mia’s summer learning experience has also evolved−from participant to mentor. “I’m excited to be a volunteer for the Summer Learning Challenge. I  help kids with their activities, listen to their book reports, and tally their reading scores,” she says gleefully.
We are excited to see Mia growing into a smart and talented young woman as her summer learning journey continues.
Mia is one of the many summer explorers who grew up reading, playing, and exploring in the library. In 2018, more than 110,000 kids read 105 minutes throughout the season. Research shows that participants of the Summer Learning Challenge show 15% gains in reading and 20% in math.
The Summer Learning Challenge is made possible thanks to Wintrust, Helen M. Harrison Foundation, Peoples Gas, PNC, Macy’s Gives, Paul M. Angell Family Foundation, Boeing, Walter E. Heller Foundation, The James & Madeleine McMullan Family Foundation, Northern Trust, Dr. Scholl Foundation, Cubs Care, A McCormick Foundation Fund, Daniel F. and Ada L. Rice Foundation, Westinghouse Electric Company, and individual donors to the Chicago Public Library Foundation.
Your gift helps kids like Miya have a full summer learning engagement. Just $25 funds 4 kids in the Summer Learning Challenge. Be our Summer Learning Champion!