by Julie M. Wood, Ed.D.
Once upon a time, in a world before the Internet, smart phones and other wireless devices, there were books. And you’d go to the library all summer long and check out seven or eight at a time. You’d head for a shady spot under a tree, or a hammock if you were really lucky, and devour all sorts of books,fromThe Borrowers, to Mary Poppins, to Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing.
For me, it was entering into the world of Island of the Blue Dolphins, oblivious to the day of the week or chores that needed to be done. And whatever else I was doing over the summer, I’d be sure to find time to read. Ever since I learned to read, books were my touchstone — from age 5 throughout the rest of my life.
Now, of course, children have a wealth of books to choose from, many of which are even more entertaining and reminiscent of a larger world than those we had back then. From DK Eyewitness books to Harry Potter, children have a mind-boggling assortment of fiction and nonfiction choices.
As parents, one of our major roles is to make sure that children set aside time every day to read – to read for pleasure, for information, for the vicarious thrill of living in an imaginary world. Why is this so important?
- Children need to engage with books every day so they can maintain, and ideally strengthen, all the literacy skills they learned during the previous school year. Assistant Principal Twana Santana-Embry compares reading to exercising, telling her students that any time they read they are “strengthening their reading muscles.”
- The stakes for children who do not read over summer vacation are high. Substantial research on this topic shows it’s usually the students who can least afford to lose ground as readers who are most likely to suffer from summer reading loss and fall far behind their peers.
- The few months of loss in reading skills compounds over the years; by the time children reach middle school, those who haven’t read during the summers may have lost as much as two years worth of achievement.
The good news is that if children read just six books over summer vacation, they will likely avoid summer reading loss. Here are a few ideas for reaching–and going beyond–this six book goal:
- Take books with you and your child everywhere you go; to the doctor’s office, on picnics, on road trips, etc.
- Let your child choose the books she wants to read (as long as they’re age-appropriate and are written at the just right level of difficulty).
- Support his reading experience by talking about the books and helping him understand and interpret what he reads.
- Read aloud to your child, even if he can read on his own. It helps build vocabulary and listening comprehension skills.
- As you’re reading aloud, be sure to interact with your child by asking what she thinks might happen next, what a certain character is likely to do, whether the story is real or make-believe, and so forth. Above all, have fun!
- If you are more comfortable reading to your child in a language other than English, by all means do so. What your child learns in his or her native language will help create a bridge to learning English.
- Encourage your child to participate in a summer reading program. Many libraries host them. Some bookstores do, too. You might also consider the PBS KIDS/iVillage Summer Reading Challenge which runs throughout July.
- In addition to reading books, children can practice their reading skills by engaging in many different online reading experiences. Literacy-building sites such as PBS KIDS Island for children ages 3-5, and the Great Word Quest for ages 6-8 (both of which are free) are great examples.
I truly believe that encouraging your child to continue flexing his or her reading muscles over summer vacation is the single most important thing you can do to help develop literacy learning. What do you think? How do you promote summer reading?