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Winter Learning Challenge

Chicago Public Library, IL
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Innovation Summary

To engage children in out of school time learning, and to test the forthcoming redesign of the Summer Reading Program, the Children and Young Adult Services team developed the Winter Learning Challenge. Children were encouraged to read and complete three activities during the 2-3 weeks of the winter school break.

Problem Statement

Research clearly demonstrates the “faucet theory” of learning loss in which children lose critical learning skills not only during longer summer breaks, but during any out of school time. We saw the winter school break as an opportunity to engage children of all ages in learning during these 2-3 weeks. Children were invited to participate in four tracks of learning and READ a minimum of 20 minutes a day for 5 days, LEARN by conducting a hands-on winter science investigation, DISCOVER by reflecting on a winter related website or video, and CREATE a written or visual art piece related to the winter season. This also served as a timely opportunity for us to constructively experiment with the forthcoming evolution of our Summer Reading Program into a Summer Learning Challenge, by providing a context in which to investigate 21st century learning pathways in a public library.


To make this project as low impact on staff as possible, all content was centrally developed and hosted on the Winter Learning Program (WLP) page of the Chicago Public Library website. Branches were encouraged to promote the program as effectively as feasible and were given 50 print copies of the WLP log to distribute in their locations. Logs were also available for download on the WLP page by the public. Each child who returned a Log to their neighborhood library received a free paperback book. Each child who completed all elements of the challenge was invited to participate in a technology raffle by being entered into a drawing for a Kindle Fire. We ran the program from December 17, 2012 to January 7, 2013, to encompass the entire winter break period for the diverse array of schools across Chicago.


At the end of the three week program, 2,300 logs were returned to us from our 77 branches. With such a large response we asked for and were able to raffle off one Kindle Fire for each of our three districts, with the support of the Chicago Public Library Foundation. The WLC web page received 4,591 views, 60% of which were from outside our branch libraries, and a majority of returned logs had been downloaded from there. We also found that a majority of our participants were in the 3rd-5th grade range, a demographic that has historically had less participation in our Summer Reading Program. As a result of the positive response to this program, we are moving ahead with our Summer Learning Challenge plans to include the four tracks of learning and a corresponding multi-age program platform, and we will be offering a similar technology incentive across the city.