Read What You Want This Summer!

Reading over the summer is essential to preventing "summer slide," or the loss of valuable academic skills gained during the school year. Although it may seem unfair to make kids read and do assignments over the summer, it is in fact exceedingly important. The key to getting a child to read during summer vacation, however, is to let them read what they want to read.

HONDURAS: Two Children Read a Book in a Hammock. Picture courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons

Summer is in full swing, and many children are relishing not having to go to school or complete assignments. Others, meanwhile, are staring down assigned summer reading lists with dismay.

Although it may seem unfair to make kids read and do assignments over the summer, it is in fact exceedingly important. Children who don’t read over the summer lose valuable skills they learned during the school year. “Summer slide,” as this loss of skills is popularly known, is cumulative. Kids who don’t read during the summer don’t catch up to their peers once school begins. In other words, it adds up. It is important, therefore, that children read over the summer. This is the thinking behind those summer reading lists.

They don’t always work, though. You know it, and I know it.

We all have not done our summer reading at one time or another (I didn’t finish reading Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance the summer before my senior year of high school, and I am a voracious reader!). The assigned summer reading wasn’t always what I wanted to read, or what grabbed my attention. Other children may not do their summer reading because they don’t have ready access to books. Buying books can get expensive. For these children, the summer slide is particularly fraught.

Researchers have begun to address summer slide by having a group of elementary school students attend a book fair and pick books they wanted to read over the summer. Another group of students received books from an already established reading list. Reading tests administered before summer began and at the beginning of following school year revealed that the scores of students in the first group improved. Students in the second group, sadly, showed no improvement.

While this is a small example, what can we glean from this? Let kids read what they want over the summer! Children are more likely to read something, anything, if they are interested in the subject matter.When a child finds that “hook”-be it science fiction, animals, graphic novels, stories about kids like them, a historical period, or a specific author-that’s what inspires them keep reading, including during summer vacation.Summer reading lists are probably not going away any time soon. But what can we do in the meantime to inspire our children to read beyond what is prescribed?

Teachers: consider following the advice above and let summer reading lists have a “choose your own” component. Your students may surprise you by going off the beaten path of children’s and YA literature. Parents: be a reading role model for your child. Let them see you read throughout the summer. Read aloud as family, even if your children are older. Finally, don’t miss out on Summer Challenge. Kids, teens, and adults can earn points toward fabulous prizes just by reading and doing other activities at home and in the community. It’s the most fun you’ll have this summer, with or without a book!

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