I wrote this article upon request for my daughter's school website, and am sharing a slightly edited version here.
Summer Slide is a well-documented phenomenon in which students' academic performance slips over the summer break. One report found that "on average, students’ achievement scores declined over summer vacation by one month’s worth of school-year learning". The good news is that the solution to a Summer Slide in reading scores is simple: get your kids to read over the summer break.
Of course that's easier said than done. Kids are busy with camps and other activities. They often prefer to spend their free time playing with their friends or poking around on their tablets instead of reading books. And if you try to force them to spend time reading they may well resist you on principle. "It's my summer vacation! I don't HAVE to read and YOU can't make me!". Etc.
The trick is to make reading enjoyable, so that your kids will choose to do it. Scholastic runs an extensive survey on family reading every two years. This year's Kids and Family Reading Report identified three factors that are common to kids who read frequently for pleasure:
- Choice over what they read;
- Access to lots of books; and
- Reading role models
[See another post I wrote about the KFRR results here.] With those results in mind, here are seven tips for making reading enjoyable for your kids this summer:
- Let them choose what they want to read. This is the MOST important thing you can do as a parent to encourage reading for pleasure. Do not give in to the temptation to "encourage" your daughter to read books that you like, or books that you think are good for her. Do not visibly cringe when all your son wants to read for the entire summer are Dog Man or Goosebumps books. The important thing is that your children are reading books that they THEY enjoy. Re-reading books or reading books that seem to you to be too easy for them gives them valuable practice. Eventually they will choose to move on to more challenging fare and then they'll enjoy that, too. I think it's fine to show them the Battle of the Books lists or other recommended reading lists, but then step back and let them choose those books if and only if they feel inspired.
- Read aloud to them, no matter how old they are. This is one of the things that the kids in the Scholastic survey report that they love most. They love the attention and the closeness. And by reading to them you can read books that are a bit too challenging for them to read on their own, expanding their vocabularies and narrative sense. Reading together is a win on many levels. Even if you are out of the habit, summer is a good time to try again. If you're not comfortable, you could also try listening to audiobooks together.
- Let them see you reading. This works best if you read books or magazines in print. When you are on your tablet, they probably assume that you are texting or doing social media. But if they see you curled up on the couch with a book, TV off, they will be more likely to make that choice themselves.
- Take them to the library or the bookstore (and again, let them choose). Kids are sometimes fickle. What they want to read today may not be what they want to read tomorrow. Having lots of choices, readily available around your house, will make kids more likely to choose to read.
- Keep books in convenient locations in your house. The could be the breakfast table, the bathrooms, the bedrooms, or (as in my house) all of the above. Again, if the books are there, and they are books that your child has chosen (or there are a lot of books for her to choose from), you will increase the chance that your child will decide to read.
- Consider giving your kids flashlights or headlamps to make reading in bed more fun.
- Limit screens, at least some of the time, so that your child has some time to read. Something that has worked well for me is not to allow my daughter (age 9) to use her tablet in the car unless the drive is at least 30 minutes. I keep a bin of books in the car (well, ok, two bins) and change the books out regularly. Most of the time, when we are driving to the orthodontist or softball or whatever, my daughter is reading. Often when she has friends in the car with her, they are all reading. Some of my favorite times are when I can listen to them talk to each other about books, smiling quietly to myself.
A note on Summer Reading programs. There are many programs that focus on getting kids reading. Most of them give prizes for meeting certain milestones. Our PTO Language Arts Chair found this list of 17 Free Summer Reading Programs. I'm not personally a fan of giving kids extrinsic rewards for reading because some studies have shown that the kids will stop reading once the rewards stop coming. But for kids who are extremely reluctant to read, programs like this might offer the push that you need to get them started. Sometimes all it takes is for a child to find the right book, that one book that hooks him, and then he'll be a reader for life. Or at least for this summer, which is the immediate goal.
See also this post, which is about Scholastic's findings regarding a decline in kids reading for pleasure at age 9.
Thanks for reading and happy summer.