As the last of the school bells are ringing right now, kids are heading off to a summer that (they hope) will be filled with trips to the pool, picnics, sports, and vacations. Very few are thinking about reading and the need to keep up their hard-earned skills from the previous academic year. This leads to what is known as the “Summer Slide” – non-reading students lose their fluency and comprehension over the summer months, and teachers can expect to spend about 4-6 weeks of the new school year re-teaching skills that have been lost.
All students experience significant learning loss when they don’t read over the summer holidays, and research shows that, on average, they score lower on standardized tests at the end of summer than they do on the same tests when they’re given at the close of the academic year. Low-income students experience greater summer learning losses than their higher income peers – approximately two months’ worth. Additionally, by the end of the fifth grade, they lag about 2.5 years behind middle income students, primarily due to losses during the summer breaks.
This lag is also due to the lack of appropriate materials. A study published in the Handbook of Early Literacy Research, Volume 2 (edited by Susan Neuman and David Dickinson) indicated that in middle-income neighborhoods, the ratio of books to child is 13 to 1; in low-income neighborhoods that ratio is an incredible 1 age-appropriate book for every 300 children. It is imperative that lower-income children receive the necessary materials to help close the gap between the groups. When the materials are made available in the school environment during the academic year, the research shows that achievement for both middle- and lower-income students improves at a similar rate.
The best way to deal with the Summer Slide is not to let it happen in the first place. Research shows that reading just 4-5 books during the summer can prevent a decline in a child’s fall reading scores. Kate DiCamillo, a two-time Newbery Medal Award-winning author, says the key is finding ways to make reading fun, combining education and entertainment for an activity that kids find enjoyable. “Reading should not be presented to children as a chore or duty, but rather as a gift that emphasizes the fun of opening a new book and celebrating the satisfaction that comes from reading another story,” she has said.
Teachers play an important role in helping to create a culture where reading is valued and given priority, even in the summer months. However parents need to get in the act too. Here are some suggestions for how you can make reading a part of your kids’ summer activities.
- Keep a book with you. The best way to get kids to read is to have books available. Take them with you wherever you go: to the store, to the beach, or even to the doctor’s waiting room.
- Lead by example. Kids are much more willing to read if they see their parents and other adults reading for fun. Keep your own skills sharp by finding time to squeeze in some reading, and do it in a public place.
- Summer splurge. Plan to take a fun, reading-related trip midway through the summer; it can serve as a reinforcement for the importance of reading and as a reward to the kids for having done their reading. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy; choose something like a trip a character in one of the books takes over her summer vacation.
- Explore hobbies. Reading becomes even more fun when the subject matter involves something you’re interested in. Look for books that match your kids’ personal interests, and you’ll find they’ll be much more willing to spend time reading.
- Magazine mail. Everybody likes getting mail addressed to them, and you can find many popular kids magazines available for delivery. The excitement of receiving something is often an incentive to flip the magazine open and start reading to see what’s there.
- Road trip reading. A long car ride is the perfect opportunity for the whole family to find the time to read something they’re interested in. Discuss the story over lunch breaks and fuel stops to increase engagement and make the experience more fun. You can also opt to enjoy an audiobook together.
- Pen pals. Work with other parents, teachers, or librarians to set up pen pals for the summer. When the kids write letters back and forth, they practice their reading and writing skills, as well as learn something new about a different place or culture.
- Act it out. Acting is fun, especially for more outgoing kids. Have a group of kids all read the same book then get together to create a play based on it. This also helps kids understand the characters and story lines by bringing them to life.
- Take direction. Ask kids to read directions for a variety of summer projects. Some examples might be setting up a tent, making a snack for a picnic, or swimming correctly. It doesn’t matter if they are directing you or doing it themselves; reading and understanding directions builds important skills.
- Head to the library. Libraries don’t close for the summer, and most libraries offer fun and interactive summer reading programs for kids of all ages. You can also pick up books that will be of interest to your children and help get excited about reading all summer long.
- Tap into tech time. Many parents like to limit the amount of time their kids can spend watching TV or playing on the computer during the summer. If you’re one of them, think about a compromise – let the kids use devices for productive activities, such as reading e-books.
- Use AceReader. With the AceReader program, kids (and adults) can work to maintain their reading skills or to improve them. They can work with 13 content levels. They can play fun yet educational games and do eye exercises. They can even load their favorite book into the program to read it on the screen.
No matter what type(s) of activity you choose to do, make sure that your kids have every opportunity to read during the summer so they do not become part of the Summer Slide.
 Gundlach, Marlene. (June 26, 2015). Statistics on Summer Reading. Retrieved from http://www.brighthubeducation.com/summer-learning-activities-ideas/78894-how-reading-prevents-summer-learning-loss/