City of Ukiah, California

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Keep our kids busy – and reading – this summer

School graduations, Father’s Day, and the beginning of summer are now behind us. Our kids have been out of school for a few weeks, and summer activities are in top gear. By now, the fun of staying at home and playing video games might be losing its appeal.

This is when I start to worry about our community’s kids.

During the summer, young people who don’t have anything to do seem to get into trouble, or worse, become the victims of crimes.

This week, I thought I’d share some thoughts on how to keep kids safe while they are out of school.

The short answer is, “Keep them busy – and reading.”

Both organized activities and regular reading during the summer are proven methods to improve academic achievement when kids are in school.

Crime statistics show that the highest risk for kids becoming a victim of a violent crime is when they are out of school. Studies also show that kids are more likely to engage in risky behaviors - smoke, drink, or do drugs – when they are away from school.

Common sense tells us that if kids are busy with productive activities, they are less likely to become a victim of a crime or engage in dangerous activities.

So, how do I respond when I hear people–especially kids–say there’s nothing to do in Ukiah? I disagree wholeheartedly!

There are more opportunities in Ukiah than I can possibly describe in this column, so I’ll just highlight some of the best. First and foremost are the City of Ukiah’s recreation programs.

The City of Ukiah Recreation Department’s motto is, “Parks Make Life Better.” For our kids, I think the Summer Safari Day Program and City of Ukiah Municipal Swimming Pool truly do make life better each summer.

The Summer Safari Program is celebrating its thirtieth anniversary. Each year, the day camp offers activities like crafts, sports, drama, and more for kids ages 6 to 12 years old. This great program serves well over 300 kids each summer, and has an average of 60 to 120 kids participating each day.

The Summer Safari day camp is open Monday through Friday from 7:30 a.m. until 5:30 p.m. For families that can’t afford to attend, the program offers scholarships so that no one is turned away. 

Along with Summer Safari, the City Pool also offers a fantastic opportunity to keep kids busy and out of trouble. The pool’s open swim hours are Monday through Friday 1:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m., and Saturday and Sunday from 1:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m.

Along with open public swimming hours, the pool offers a variety of swim lessons and aquatic fitness classes. Each summer the pool has more than 11,500 visits; 633 kids and adults participate in swim classes, and about 184 people participate in the aquatic fitness program. As many have realized, the City Pool is a great way for kids to enjoy themselves and cool off during the hot summer months. 

In addition to staying physically active and spending time outdoors, a vital summer pastime for kids should be reading.

Experts agree that children who read during the summer gain reading skills, while those who do not often slide backward. According to the authors of a report from the National Summer Learning Association, “A conservative estimate of lost instructional time is approximately two months or roughly 22 percent of the school year... It's
common for teachers to spend at least a month re-teaching material that students have forgotten over the summer. That month of re-teaching eliminates a month that could have been spent on teaching new information and skills.”

To help increase youth reading, the Ukiah Unified School District created a program called, “Ukiah Reads.” The program celebrates great books, encourages and fosters a love for reading (especially during summer); and invites parents, community members, and businesses to get involved with local schools. It does these things by preparing a carefully selected summer reading list for each grade level, and encouraging kids to read during the summer, thereby helping kids be ready to return to their classrooms in the fall. To support these goals and kick off the program, the Wells Fargo Foundation donated $5,000.

To learn more about Ukiah Reads, visit the Mendocino County Library in Ukiah or check out the Facebook page titled, “Friends of the Library, Ukiah Valley” (

In the book titled, The Power of Reading, author Stephen Krashen says that time for voluntary reading, where kids can make their own choice about what to read, is extremely effective.

At the Reading Is Fundamental website (, author Kathryn Perkinson says that, “…helping your children enjoy reading is one of the most important things you can do as a parent, and it’s well worth the investment of your time and energy. Kids will learn reading skills in school, but often they come to associate reading with work, not pleasure. As a result, they lose their desire to read. And it is that desire—the curiosity and interest—that is the cornerstone to using reading and related skills successfully.”

The Reading Is Fundamental website warns that when it comes to summer break, many are thinking about the family vacation, trips to the pool, how to keep children engaged in activities at home, the abrupt changes to everyone's schedule—and how to juggle it all. What parents might not be focusing on is how much educational ground their children could lose during the three-month break from school, particularly when it comes to reading.

While many kids with time on their hands make good choices, some don’t. We’d all like to think our kids know better and won’t succumb to peer pressure or curiosity, but filling their time with positive activities reduces those opportunities for risky behavior.

Finding productive activities for kids can be difficult, and sometimes without direction kids can be unsafe or even become destructive. To start, I think it is extremely important that we find ways to, “Keep them busy – and keep them reading!”

The data is clear – productive activities help prevent kids from committing, or becoming victims of a crimes. Keeping kids busy and reading really does help keep kids safe.

As always, our mission at UPD is simple: to make Ukiah as safe as possible. If you have any suggestions or comments about how we can improve, please feel free to call me, complete our online survey, or leave a crime tip on our website:  

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Safety · Professionalism · Community Service