The question from Caleb Frye seemed appropriate, considering the 9-year-old knew he was about to embark on an archaeological dig.

"Do you have real human bones?" he asked.

Jeff White, the instructor leading the July 19 "dig" for junior archeologists at the Columbus Metropolitan Library's Canal Winchester branch, seemed prepared for such a question.

Of course, having human bones available for the program wasn't possible.

"We would have to remove them from the cemetery," he said.

The questions kept coming from more than dozen curious elementary school-aged children who were exploring the field of archaeology, many of them for the first time. They examined fossils and grabbed tiny shovels and brushes to "dig up" items White had brought to the indoor excavation area as part of the library's Summer Reading Challenge, which includes more than 1,000 programs systemwide.

The nine-week challenge, which began June 2, emphasizes the educational aspect of summer reading. Studies have indicated that children who read during the summer months retain reading skills for future school success.

The interactive STEM-based (science, technology, engineering and math) program introduces children to archaeology through small-scale, hands-on excavation projects set up in aquariums and other small containers. Those participating also were introduced to books on the subject.

The classes give students the opportunity to learn how the past affects modern culture, said White, an archaeologist and educator.

"What sparks my interest is getting them involved in it and getting them educated in how we actually go about doing things," he said. "I feel they get the concepts by doing it instead of listening to me talk about it."

White's program, Archaeology, Can You Dig It?, teaches elementary and middle school students the techniques used by archaeologists, including excavation and methods used to identify, process and record remains.

Caleb was drawn to the fossils and rocks scattered across a table, as White talked about the Adena Mound near Chillicothe, a site used by prehistoric mound builders.

"I was only in the third grade, so I hardly know anything about it," he said. "But, it is interesting."

His mother, Mindi, said the family takes advantage of many of the library's programs.

"He's the type of kid who likes anything related to science," she said. "He likes to learn. He seems very interested in this. ... He loves rocks and he loves exploring things, so it's pretty cool."

Kevin Butler brought his two sons, 9-year-old Kendall and 4-year-old Kellen. Kendall, who enjoys science, picked out books about fossils after learning he was going to participate in the program, Butler said.

"It's been fun digging up the fossils and seeing how things work and how things were back in the day," Kendall said. "I dig in my yard and have a rock collection."

The Columbus Metropolitan Library's vision includes responding to urgent needs, including third-grade reading proficiency.

Last year, 60,000 children participated in the Columbus library's Summer Reading Challenge. The events, which end Aug. 4, are both large and small.

"This one is pretty small, but we've had some that (have attracted) as many as 120 (children)," Canal Winchester Branch Manager Matt Craft said. "The best way to keep kids engaged in reading is helping them pick out things that they like to read."

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