At EdNavigator, we’re sort of obsessed with summer learning loss. It’s what happens when kids stop practicing math and reading skills over the summer months – they end up losing a lot of what they learned. It’s a big problem, and one of the main reasons why many students fall behind in school. It’s hard to stay on track when you’re losing two to three months’ worth of learning before each new school year.
The good news is that there are lots of ways families can fight summer learning loss, and one of the most important is also one of the simplest: READ. Research suggests that reading just five books over the summer may be enough to prevent the usual slide in kids’ reading achievement. Five books! That’s a book every two weeks, for most kids.
Why is reading so important?
After third grade, reading becomes the main way students learn. In fact, kids who can't read proficiently by the end of third grade are four times more likely to drop out. Reading also helps kids build their vocabulary, exposes them to new ideas, develops their imagination, and improves critical thinking. In the future, they’ll need reading skills for important tasks such as texting their friends and getting a job.
Ok, so how do I keep my kids reading over the summer?
This might seem like an impossible task. Summer is for swimming, playing sports, and eating ice cream, right? “Summer reading” usually evokes thoughts of musty, high-fiber books like A Tale of Two Cities or The Grapes of Wrath. You can imagine the eye-rolling already.
But summer reading doesn’t have to be a dull slog through a list of books your kid doesn’t want to open. Those long lazy days offer a perfect opportunity to get lost in a thrilling story or explore an interest.
Researchers have found that three things seem to make the biggest difference in encouraging reading: (1) providing kids with access to high-quality books; (2) giving kids books of their own; and (3) allowing kids to choose what they read. That’s it: Access, ownership, choice.
With that in mind, here are five simple strategies for keeping your kid reading this summer:
1. Join a summer reading program
Most public libraries (including New Orleans' library) offer free programs with events, rewards and prizes. These are a great option because all your child has to do is sign up, check out some books, and track his or her progress. Plus, having the structure of a program can be motivating. Online programs are also available.
2. Set a goal
Setting a goal is a simple but powerful act. For younger children, the goal might be to read for 15 minutes every weekday; for older readers, it might be to read at least six books over the summer. Make the goal clear and use a reading log (like ours, at right) to follow their progress.
3. Let them choose
What your child reads matters less than getting them reading, period. More than 90% of children say they’re more likely to finish a book they picked out themselves. So is it ok if your child only reads about aliens? Sure. Volcanoes? Why not. Dancing? Let’s tango.
4. Use a theme
Summer reading shouldn't feel like homework. Find books that tap into your child’s interests (aliens?) with sites like StartWithABook.org.
5. Reward success
For example, promise a trip to your child’s favorite restaurant or store if they reach their reading goal, or offer a smaller reward for each book completed. Some companies offer their own summer reading programs for kids, like Pizza Hut's BOOK IT! program, so keep an eye out for those. Click here for a list of some other free programs.
I’ll add one more: Do some summer reading of your own. It’s fun, there are a ton of terrific books worth reading, and having a parent who is a frequent reader is one of the top three predictors that a child will become a frequent reader too. Do it for the kids.