Friday, July 11, 2008

Fighting Summer Reading Loss

I was asking one of my daughter's friends the other night how many books she had read so far this summer. "None," she stated simply, as if this were the only logical course of action after a stressful, intense, homework-packed school year.

You can't really blame her.

But that got me to thinking about something that's often called summer reading loss. Basically, it's like kids' brains melt a bit over the hot summer months when they don't read. You see, by not reading books over the summer a child's reading ability and achievement actually goes backwards. It regresses. I've seen figures that say reading achievement typically declines on average by three months during the hot, lazy months of June, July and August if kids don't read. Most troubling, research indicates that summer reading loss hits lower income, at-risk kids the most, and the effects are cumulative. And the kids most impacted are those students in K-3rd, but summer reading loss can rob kids of critical reading progress all the way through middle school.

So what to be done about it? First, read this good article titled "Bridging the Summer Reading Gap," written by Anne McGill-Franzen and Richard Allington. Next, dig into the research about summer reading programs by starting with this excellent and informative research summary. Then read this primer on the issue from RIF's website. Check out those three things and you'll know more about this issue than 99% of people.

Here a few key tips I gleaned while going through all this information:

You don't have to read A LOT of books: Just five or six books can maintain reading levels over the summer.
Do not push books on kids that are too tough: Summer reading should be a time to enjoy reading. Struggling through something too difficult defeats the purpose. Kids would rather pick at a scab then machete their way through the complex, confusing and dull.
Let kids self-select their books: Don't make your son read Little Women or The Red Badge of Courage because they're classics. Let your daughter select books with subjects, themes and styles that interest her. She can read a series about ponies or cave exploring adventurers, while he reads books about dinosaur poop or medieval combat. Just butt out!
• It doesn't matter what they're reading, as long as they're reading: Do not roll your eyes at comic novels. Do not scoff at Captain Underpants. And don't you dare groan when a child approaches waving a Joe Sherlock mystery!
Sign up kids for summer reading programs at the library and get them there: Kids can't drive. Adults need to get kids to where the books are. Where there are no books, there is no reading.
• Keep track of progress by making a list: Slap a list of completed books onto the fridge with a magnet. Write down each book knocked off. Show the list to EVERYBODY who comes by. Send a copy to Grandma. Bring the list to your knitting group. Or show it to the guys you play golf with. Get involved. Your child's eyes will shine with pride. Trust me. Perhaps you might even slap your own list on that fridge? Have fun. Be creative. Show that it is your #1 Summer Priority and it'll get done.

Happy Summer Reading!