Thursday, July 8, 2010

Preventing the Summer Reading Slump


Most of you reading this blog have probably heard of the "summer reading slump".  It's simply the idea that when children are away from reading, especially during the years in which their reading skills are developed, they lose ground in their abilities.  They read less and their skills grow weaker.  This is true for children just finishing kindergarten and first grade but it is equally true for older kids, even those who have been reading for years.

Think about bodybuilders or people who exercise.  Once they stop exercising, their muscles quickly deteriorates or weakens because they aren't using them.  It's the same with reading.  Use it or lose it (I'm realizing that on the physical level more and more with each passing year --- I can barely hold up this stack of books)!

The counterargument I hear from parents and caregivers most often, in response to this idea of children reading in the summer, is, "don't the children deserve a break?"

That's why I advocate summer reading be on a different channel.  Reading doesn't have to look or feel like school work.  In the summer more than any other time, it should be fun with lots of free choice and lots of opportunities rather than a structured "you've got to read now" approach.  Don't confuse academic activities -- something your child only does in a classroom -- with the many purposes for reading and writing.   And every book they read during the summer vaccinates them again losing ground they have gained during the year.


Think about how we as adults use reading and writing as tools every day.  We read menus, grocery lists and advertisements, articles and emails on the Internet; we do some reading when we are selecting vacation destinations or planning trips.  Reading and writing is all around us.  And the reality is that often those who are most successful, who deal with the complexities of the modern world more easily, are those who have strong skills in this area.  They can quickly scan through a complex advertisement or document and understand what it's about.  On the other hand, if someone isn't a very good reader or writer, it can keep him or her from a job he or she would like to have.  Minimal skills can prevent anyone from making informed, quick decisions that could impact one's very life or livelihood.

Again, let's go back to other areas in real life:  if a child wants to be a star basketball player like Koby Bryant (or if we have dreams of him doing so), practice is part of the equation.  I can't think of a skill that's more important to practice than reading.


This very topic was the subject of a recent radio interview I did with host Pat Montgomery of the Parents Rule show on July 8th entitled Are We There Yet?  Preventing the Summer Reading Slump.  If you weren't able to join us live, you can listen to a podcast of the show (I'll post a permanent link on iTunes as soon as it is available). In that delightful show, we talked about three secrets to preventing the summer slump without turning our homes into academic hothouses and creating a negative feeling about reading:

1.  Choice (autonomy).  Number one, kids won't want to read something "required".  Your child's school may have a summer reading list and he or she certainly needs to complete the assigned reading but sprinkle in between lots of juicy books, magazines, online articles, ebooks, etc. on subjects that are intriguing to your child -- what really turns him on?  Save the school reading for the last month of the summer and concentrate on fun, entertaining and engaging reading in the meantime. Or get it out of the way first thing so you can concentrate on what your child wants to read.

What's "the thing" among your child's peers (vampire movies, Hanna Montana, Silly Bandz)?  Connect reading to popular fads.  And remember that choice happens when reading materials are available (so regular trips to the library, bookmobile or bookstore are in order).

Choice alone may not be enough, especially if your child isn't interested at all with reading.  Engage her in reading to see when that summer concert she's been dying to go to will be in town.  Give him the chance to research the destination of a trip and choose a few activities do while there.  Prompt him that online resources, travel books from the library or even writing a letter to a local chamber of commerce for brochures is a way to make sure he doesn't miss the "best things around".   If you are traveling to a national park, where your children will see animals, find books or articles on those critters and read about them together before you go.  Don't think "academic"; think "interest".

2.  Opportunity (and authentic purposes).  If our kids' days are packed full of scheduled activities that, in and of themselves might be terrific (swimming, camp, bike riding, computer games, texting friends, etc.), then there is often no time for reading.  There may be too many choices.

Here's where your example and leadership iare so important.  Set aside a little time each day or two (before bedtime, in the heat of the day with a cool fan or dish of ice cream, on a quilt under a tree, even family reading time where everyone is reading or being read to as the sun sets).

Consistently offer reading as an option and make it enticing.  If you don't know how to do that because perhaps you're not a good reader yourself, talk with friends who are teachers or the neighbor that you always see coming out of the library with a armload of books.  Visit my website and, on the home page, scroll down to "Hear the Literacy Ambassador".  Click on the second item in the red screen and you'll hear a radio show with Ready to Learn Mom Stacey Kannenberg in which I model just how to read Goodnight Moon with a child.

And remember that great reading isn't restricted to novels - how to articles, three-wheeler magazines, any nonfiction is just as much reading as fiction (made up stories).  Reading on the Internet is still reading (that's what you're doing here, right?)

Moms and dads: do a little planning but 
NEVER let it look like something planned to your kids.

3.  Access (and a chance to journey to mastery through regular practice).  If there are no books or reading materials in your home, your child isn't likely to search them out but you don't have to do this on your own:.  
     Set up a neighborhood book swap or book drive (if you choose the latter, get the kids involved in previewing all the donated books and writing personal recommendations on post-its taped inside the front cover of each book). 

      Have a contest among the children in your extended family to find the coolest website on ________ (whatever topic is a guaranteed "hook" for the kids).

      Even Walmart has a book section.  Most public libraries have terrific summer reading programs that go beyond books to include many related activities.

      Include some sort of game in which the kids have to read directions or cards at pool parties, picnics and pajama sleepovers.

Ask if the summer programs your child is scheduled for have 

          book stashes that can be loaned, 

          RIF/Reading is Fundamental programs (giving away books to those least likely to own them), or 

          visiting storytellers, authors, or readers.

Each of these three ideas -- choice, opportunity, and access -- are core to motivating our children to read during the summer.  


Check out these suggested websites for additional information followed by The Literacy Ambassador's list of new HOT SUMMER READS:

A blog from IVillage:  9 Sure Fire Ways to Fight the Summer Reading Slump 
An always trusted voice,  
An article for teachers, packed full of ideas for parents
Casey Study on Current Situation with Readers up to 3rd Grade

Preschool through first grade:   

Slow Down for Manatees by Jim Arnosky
Bad Frogs by Thatcher Hurd
A Beach Tail by Karen Lynn Williams

2nd through 5th grade

The Last Polar Bear by Jean Craighead George
Where Should the Turtle Be? by Susan Ring
The Bag of Bones by Vivian French
Spacehead by Jon Scieszka

Middle School

Hurricane Song by Paul Volponi
Countdown by Deborah Wiles
Scat by Carl Hiaason

High School

The Enemy by Charles Higson 
Stormchasers by Jenna Blum
Deadline by Chris Crutcher

Teen INK., a magazine with work from teen authors

Adult recommended reading

Summer is the perfect time to dive into Anytime Reading Readiness, a quick pick up and read resource for parents packed full of ideas for helping your 3-6 year old get ready to read.  

For a more meaty read, learn more about the surprising truth about what motivates us in Drive by Daniel H. Pink. You can even get a free bookplate for your own copy at Dan's website for a limited period of time.   

The best novel I've read this summer:  Stormchasers by Jenna Blum. 

All of you who are on Facebook, visit The Literacy Ambassador's Summer Challenge.  This puts a call to action in front of all of us, whether we are focusing on our own child (or children) or someone else's.  Find the book that gets them hooked!  

I close this blog with a quote that Pat Montgomery shared during the course of her show today that I believe is a terrific message for families everywhere. 

Children who are not spoken to by…responsive adults will not learn to speak properly.  Children who are not answered will stop asking questions.  They will become incurious.  
And children who are not told stories and who are not read to will have few reasons for wanting to learn to read. . . . Gail Haley

As always, I invite you to share your own "outside the box" ideas about what you are doing with reading this summer and forward this blog to someone who has a child.  Together, we can make a difference.