Summer Reading

Summer vacation is almost here, so it’s time to get organized and make a plan for summer reading.  We’ve all heard about summer reading loss, and the stories are true.  Children who do not read during the summer lose significant ground in their reading skill development – and if that happens year after year, these children can end up a year or two behind grade peers by the end of elementary school.  Not good!

Teachers and students are held accountable for academic learning and grade level standards.  Parents are accountable for the opportunities, experiences, and expectations they provide their children during school breaks.  Summer reading is one of those expectations.

Let’s start with what NOT to do.  Don’t make reading a chore!  Parents don’t have to drill children on basic skills, make children complete workbooks, or assign challenging reading goals.  The summer challenge is to make reading a pleasure!

The reading curriculum these days is very rigorous in the early grades.  Kindergarteners are expected to learn to read, despite the fact that many 5 year olds are not developmentally ready for reading. Teachers do their best to be positive, but children often learn that reading is hard, reading is ugly, and they are not good at reading.  What a defeating belief!  Summer is not the time to reinforce that belief – it’s the time to try to change it.

Many struggling readers don’t understand that reading is like talking – it’s just the book talking to you instead of another person.  Reading for pleasure is the best way to make that light bulb go on.

Now let’s get to the good stuff – what can parents do to maintain and enhance their children’s reading skills in a natural, pleasurable way?

To start with, let’s talk about the difference between the frustration, instructional, and independent reading levels.  In school, children are taught at their instructional level.  This means that the text is challenging (90% accuracy with word recognition), but the child can read and comprehend the text with instruction and guided practice.  Books at a child’s frustration level (less than 90% accuracy) are just too hard – the child doesn’t know enough of the words to be able to read fluently and comprehend the content.  When children read at their independent reading level (at least 95% accuracy), the book is easy to read and comprehend.

So the focus for the summer is finding books at your child’s independent reading level.  Some kids like to read stories, others like to read non-fiction on a topic of interest.  The local librarian can help you select appropriate books for your children or you can consult online book lists.  Many teachers send home a recommended summer reading list as well.

Here’s a simple rule of thumb for book selection: Open the book to the middle.  Ask your child to start reading, and put up a finger every time he doesn’t know a word.  If your child makes no more than one or two errors, the book is at his independent reading level.

So – the first challenge is to make summer reading fun by providing reading materials at a child’s independent reading level.  Some children prefer magazines, newspapers, or online content, and there’s nothing wrong with that.  Reading is reading is reading.

The second challenge is to make sure children read every day.  Reading should be a part of the daily routine.  Research shows that children can avoid summer reading loss if they read every day and read at least six books during the summer.  Parents should schedule in a daily reading time (20-30 minutes after lunch is typical), and keep their children supplied with appropriate reading materials.  Going on a family beach trip?  What a great time to relax and read a book!  Bring a book or magazine along any time the family goes on a picnic or visits family.  There is always time to read when families incorporate reading into their daily routine and family activities.

Most communities offer a summer reading program for children, usually through the public library.  Check it out!  Sign up!  This is a great way to make reading fun and motivate kids to spend time reading every day.

The third challenge is to establish a regular family reading time.  Children of all ages enjoy being read to, and it’s a great opportunity to introduce vocabulary and concepts that children cannot access on their own.  Classic children’s literature can be very challenging to read, but exposure is important because it’s part of our cultural heritage.  Read it aloud!  Are there books that you loved as a child?  Read them aloud!  Talk about these books at the dinner table, and maybe watch the movie as a family.

Parents who provide appropriate reading materials, schedule in a daily reading time, incorporate reading into family routines and activities, enjoy reading as a family, and use community resources are helping their children develop and maintain good reading skills.  But most important, they are giving their children a taste of the pleasure that reading can bring, and building the foundation for a life-long love of reading.

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