By Robin Stephens
In previous decades parents encouraged curling up with a book as a refuge from summer boredom. Today’s parents recognize summer reading as considerably more. Reading is a much-needed break from screens and monitors, but also necessary to avoid learning losses that occur over the summer months. The “summer slide” is real, just ask any teacher. The first few weeks of every school year are spent in review. Research suggests that children who don’t read during the summer months can lose up to three months of reading progress. These losses are large and they are accumulative. With all of the activities vying for our children’s time it is important for parents to encourage reading during summer vacation.
Here are some ideas to instill a love of reading in your children while safeguarding them from the summer slide.
Access to Books: Aim for Six
It is important that your child has access to a variety of books and other reading materials. Summer is a great time to acquaint your child with your local library. Make library visits a special event; make a library card a badge of honor! Excursions to the bookstore or the used bookstore are great fun. Magazine subscriptions are also a great idea for the more advanced reader. The magical part of all this is that it doesn’t seem to matter what kids read, only that they do. Does the number of books read matter? Various studies suggest that reading at least six books seems to be the magic threshold in preventing the summer slide.
Allow Your Child to Choose What He Reads
When it comes to book choices for your child, summer isn’t the time to be concerned with pushing academic agendas. Just as we are more likely to be turning the pages of Sidney Sheldon than Proust during vacation times, our kids need an opportunity for escape as well. Summer is the time for reading for sheer entertainment; it is a time to experience that intoxicating bliss of getting lost in a book. Allowing your child to choose her own reading material including popular fiction, magazines, graphic novels, and comic books is more likely to result in a motivated reader. They will be willing to read something that they actually enjoy. If you are concerned about the graphic or adult content of what your child is reading, talk with her about her interests and set some guidelines for appropriate choices.
Adult Guided Oral Reading and Comprehension Scaffolding
We know that children who read during the summer do better in school in the fall; however, that isn’t the whole story. Assistant Professor James Kim of Harvard University found that merely providing access to books or pointing the way toward the book is not enough. Learning differences were noted when books were provided and adults were involved in the reading of the book. Providing books without adult guidance provides no learning differences in younger children and only a slight difference in older children. The single most important factor in making summer reading effective for your child is your involvement. The difference between measurable comprehension gains is an adult who can ask questions and guide a child to better understanding of what they are reading. Scaffolding refers to a variety of techniques that can move readers progressively towards greater understanding (and ultimately, greater independence) in the learning process. Generating and asking questions, making connections to real life events, discussing characters, and summarizing plot all lead to greater comprehension for readers. This also includes oral scaffolding as the child reads aloud to you, (which is recommended daily).
Books Need to Match Reader’s Ability Levels
Just as summer reading is not about lofty content, neither is it about pushing more advanced books. The goal for summer reading is to find that “sweet spot” where reading is challenging, but not frustrating. In order to benefit from reading the child must be able to decode the words quickly enough for the brain to focus on the meaning of content. Just as merely providing access to books with no adult supervision net little comprehension gain for summer readers, books that are too easy or too hard do not result in appreciable learning outcomes. If you are unsure of the reading level that is the most appropriate for your child conduct the “Five Finger” rule. Ask your child to read 100 words from the chosen text and to raise one finger for each word that is hard to figure out. If the child has more than five fingers up at the end of the passage, then the book is too difficult.
Encourage Social Reading
We can all attest to the lure of the “social read” or friend’s recommendations. Kids are no different. Parents will tell you that many times a child will read a book merely because one of his or her friends is reading it. This can be a great motivator for kids and is something to be encouraged by parents. It is ideal when reading becomes “cool” or socially acceptable. Consider buying two copies of the same book for your child and his or her friend so both can read it at the same time. Take the kids to movies based on books and read the books. Read the same book as your child! Making reading both a social and solitary activity is a wonderful way to instill the love of reading in your children.
Make Reading About Family and Fun
Don’t set rules about the length of reading time or number of pages read. Do not make reading a punishment! Reading needs to be fun. Another aspect of reading fun is time spent with mom and dad. As previously mentioned, parental involvement is the key to avoiding the summer slide. Even during summer months, setting aside regularly scheduled family reading times makes for a memorable vacation. Additional ways to incorporate reading into family life is to plan excursions or family travel that correlate and connect with reading materials. Trips to the beach, to the museum, or day trips to different locales all reinforce learning and family bonds.
Be a Role Model
Just for a minute forget about the “summer slide”, “summer decline”, or “summer slump”. Instead, reflect upon the sheer joy of summer reading. Whether reading at the beach, at the cabin, or lying in the cool grass by the shade of a tree reading is synonymous with summer escapism. We read books that transported us to a different time and a different place. We read books that required friends to call back later and chores to wait; we lost hours, and sometimes days, in pursuit of newfound friends and adventure. Reading is a gift our parents passed down to us. It was a gift that we bestowed upon ourselves. And, it is a gift that we must pass on to our children. Go grab a book!
Robin Stephens of The Growing Room Academy holds a bachelor’s degree in Human Development and Family Studies with a focus on early childhood/ adolescent development, family systems, and socio-cultural perspectives of the family. As a Certified Simplicity Parenting Coach©, Robin provides personal family coaching and facilitates parenting workshops for schools and parent organizations. She also is involved in youth advocacy organizations providing support for LGBTQ youth and their families.