Summer Reading: The Reason Why and Tips to Help Make it Happen

So all of my kids are strongly encouraged to read over the summer by their teachers (and their dad and I too). Well, summer break began a few weeks ago and my kids and I may have read independently for a handful of times very briefly. I have a difficult time reading unless it is immediately before bed. The problem with this is that it makes it difficult to read with my kids because they should be sleeping by the time I am supposed to be reading. I need to figure out how to fix this issue because apparently, children read more when they see other people reading. Children read more when they see their parents reading for pleasure. It is a known fact.

Last night is a perfect example of what happens when I try to read at an earlier time when my kids are awake. My youngest came in and said he wanted to fall asleep in my bed. I have a difficult time telling him to go back to his bed so I told him to climb on in and I could just shut off the lights and use my reading light (which is totally awesome and not expensive ). For a few minutes, my son watched me read and then proceeded to tell me how cool my giant shadow hand looked in the light on the wall. It was a giant shadow hand and indeed was looking pretty cool. My closest friend, ADD, joined in on the fun and decided to forget reading and start making some shadow animals on the wall. My son then joins in with some very impressive flying bird shadows. Shortly thereafter my other two children join in on the fun and have a full animal (monster) brigade.

Now I would not take back that memory imprinted in my brain for anything BUT I do need to figure out how to schedule time to read earlier in the day so that my kids see me reading for pleasure. I want to be a positive influence and contribute to their love of reading (if that ever happens). It is challenging for me with my ADD brain to focus on reading when there are distractions around.

I will mention that since I wrote this (of course the time between writing it and posting ranges from days to weeks thanks to my buddy ADD) I have begun to read first thing in the morning with my coffee. My youngest is up with me so we read together. I absolutely love it. My other two are usually still sleeping so I need to figure out to read with them but I have at least set the household on the parameters of “no technology unless you do your reading”. This is slightly authoritarian but hey, it’s a start. I am determined to find something that works and hope I can perhaps help at least one person out there too. Therefore, without further ado, I will reiterate the importance of reading and hope to inspire at least one person to try to read more in the presence of their children.

WHY read over the summer?

According to Stephen Krashen, “Free voluntary reading (henceforth FVR) is one of the most powerful tools we have in language education, and…is the missing ingredient in first language ‘language arts’ as well as in intermediate second and foreign language instruction.” In his book, The Power of Reading, he writes about studies that illustrate how free voluntary reading benefits student achievement. Benefits include:

  • The longer free voluntary reading is practiced, the more consistent and positive the results.
  • People who read more, write better.
  • Reading as a leisure activity is the best predictor of comprehension, vocabulary and reading speed.Skill-based reading exercises (in two studies) did not help comprehension levels (this does not shock me).
  • Outstanding high school writers reported extensive summer reading.
  • The relationship between free voluntary reading and literacy is extremely consistent, even when different tests, different methods of reading habits and different definitions of free reading are used.
  • If children read one million words a year, at least one thousand words will be added to their vocabulary. (One study found this could easily be accomplished by letting children and teens read any format reading material.)
  • Studies also showed that spelling improved the more kids read. (Krashen, Stephen. The Power of Reading. Libraries Unlimited. 1993)

Another reason for why we really need to try to get our children to read (preferably while we are reading alongside them) over the summer is because children who don’t read over the summer tend to lose literacy skills while children who do read during the summer actually improve their reading ability. Summer learning losses accumulate over several years and are an important contributor to the achievement gap. Do not let your child fall into that “summer slump”.

According to James S. Kim, Ed.D., assistant professor of education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, kids who read during the summer tend to be better prepared academically. In a 2009 government web cast, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan described summer learning loss as “devastating.” This is what researchers have often referred to as the “summer slide.” It is estimated that school summer breaks will cause the average student to lose up to one month of instruction (Cooper, H., Nye B., Linsey J., et al. “The Effects of Summer Vacation on Achievement Test Scores: A Narrative and Meta-Analytic Review [ERIC].” (1996).

Regardless of ethnicity, socioeconomic level, or previous achievement, children who read four or more books over the summer fare better on reading comprehension tests when they return to school in the fall than their peers who read one or no books over the summer. (J. Kim 2004). In addition to improving the memorization of academic material, summer reading provides a more structured way to continue the pattern of learning. That continuity can smooth the transition from summer to the fall semester. Rather than requiring several weeks to re-adapt to school and its tasks, the summer reader will face only a change in intensity, rather than in type of activity.

There is absolutely no reason to not attempt this. If children read one million words a year, at least one thousand words will be added to their vocabulary. Even if you hit half this number you are still ahead of the game! There is no downside to trying to read more.

So how can we as parents help our kids try to read more? Here are some ideas……

Discussion: If children have the opportunity to listen to, discuss, and read books on topics that they select, they will develop extensive background information which can serve as a platform from which to engage in their own independent reading. An overwhelming nine in ten kids say they are more likely to finish a book they picked out themselves. (YouGov and Scholastic 2016)

Use reading comprehension exercises to boost skills. Kids with ADHD and LD may need help from parents to acquire decoding skills, fluency, and comprehension. Have your child read short passages aloud, and ask him questions about what he’s read. Encourage him to summarize what’s happening in the story, and to predict what will happen next. Ask him to re-read passages if something wasn’t comprehended fully. Good readers do these things automatically, but children (and adults) who lose focus easily often need guidance. There is no shame in having to re-read a passage (once, twice…. who cares…. at least you’re reading!)

Read at the right level. Books should fit a child’s reading level. Ask your librarian or bookstore staff to recommend appropriate books, or select books with the level of difficulty displayed on the front or back cover. Or try this test: Open a prospective book to any page, and have your child start reading. Count the words she can’t read. If there are fewer than five, the book’s a keeper. Five or more? Keep looking.

Try reading aloud or listen to audio books. If a book that is popular with classmates is too difficult for your child, there are ways for them to “read” it too. Kids are never too old to be read aloud to, and they can benefit from following along as they listen. Alternatively, get an audio book while your child reads and follows along is just as beneficial as reading independently.

Summer Reading Programs. Libraries and local bookstores, and usually always have some type of summer reading program. What is great about these is they offer an incentive program which may help give your child a little push. These reading incentive programs usually involve the kids by keeping a reading log and then upon reaching milestones, the kids are awarded prizes.

Set a good example. Be a bookworm family!

So go on! Give it a try!