These days most elementary schools provide dedicated in class time for kids to read from books they have selected because of their interests and reading abilities. Unfortunately, for many kids summer is not a time when books are readily accessible or reading time a part of a daily routine. This lack of practice in reading often leads to a phenomenon that reading researchers call summer reading loss or summer reading setback. Kids who don't read over the summer, lose reading gains they made over the school year.
There is plenty of research documenting summer reading loss and you can access some of it here and here. Not surprisingly, summer reading loss impacts children in low income families more than in middle income and high income families. While there is less research on how to combat summer loss, there are some common sense ways that parents and teachers can use to help fight summer loss.
Give Access to Books
When kids have access to books that they want to read and that they can read, their reading improves. There is actually some good research to demonstrate this. In many lower income families access to books is limited. In order to combat summer loss we must get books in kids hands. Schools can play a role in this. Research has shown that just getting high interest books in the homes of low income children can make a difference in summer loss. Simply by giving kids books to take home at the end of the school year, schools can make a difference. Different schools have found different ways to do this. One way is to seek grants from federal programs like Reading is Fundamental or through PTA fundraisers or book fairs. Local businesses might be interested in underwriting a program of book distribution for low income children who need literacy materials.
One place money might be found to support such a program is the summer school budget. It may be that students would profit more from simply getting books to take home than from a summer school program. Literacy researcher, Richard Allington, who literally wrote the book on summer loss, puts it this way.
We now have the evidence that improving access to books for children from low-income families can have a positive and powerful impact on their reading development. Our evidence suggests that policy makers might reconsider summer school policies, especially for low-income children. Instead of spending a thousand dollars per student to support a summer school program, perhaps support the expenditure of $100 per student to provide kids with books they can and want to read.
Allington also points out that school library books sit idle on the shelves for three months in the summer. He suggests that no child in the school should be allowed to go home without ten books from the school library to read during the summer. We might call it a summer adoption program for books, where instead of taking care of classroom pets over the summer, kids take care of library books.
And here is another great way to provide access to books - open the school libraries during the summer. Education Week reports that the school libraries in 11 schools in Wilmington, N.C, are open and staffed by a certified school librarian throughout the summer. The idea is to have a professionally staffed library open to kids in their neighborhood.
Turn on TV Captions
Kids watch a lot of TV, but TV does not have to be the enemy of literacy. One powerful way to combat summer loss is to make sure that parents turn the captions on the television while the children watch. TV captions have been shown to improve children's reading ability in a variety of ways. Literacy specialist, Cynthia Mershon, explained what research has shown about captioned TV in a guest post on this blog last year.
Research reveals that when students read the words on the television screen and hear them spoken by the people in the television program or movie and see the pictures or images on the television screen that tell them what the words mean, their reading comprehension, vocabulary, fluency, and general engagement with reading increases at a higher rate than those students not watching captioned television.
Parents- turn on the captions. Teachers - encourage parents to turn on the captions and make sure you have the captions on when kids view TV in the classroom.
Go to an Animal Shelter
Kids love animals. Animals love kids. Many animal shelters provide a program to match up children with animals for reading sessions. This ASPCA sponsored "Book Buddies" program is an ideal way to encourage reading practice from all kinds of readers, but especially reluctant and struggling young readers. Animals don't judge, they just enjoy the companionship and kids get a warm and wonderful way to get more reading in. You can check out the program here.
Go to the Library
Summer is a time for lots of outdoor fun - swimming, baseball, picnics, hiking, cycling - but it can also be a great time for quiet, cool and relaxing indoor activities. A visit to the library to hang out in the air-conditioning and read is a perfect follow-up to a day of sweaty outdoor fun. Do everybody in your family a favor today, if you do not already have one, go to the local library to get a library card. While you are there, help your children find books that they are interested in reading or ask the librarian to help. Summer should be a time for voluntary reading; for kids to explore their own passions and interests through the printed word.
Go to the Zoo (or Musuem)
Family trips to zoos and museums support children's developing literacy. First of all, the more experiences children have, the more information they have to draw on as they read. A rich store of knowledge about a variety of topics from animals to nature to history is a great ally for reading comprehension. The key to any zoo or museum visit is family talk. Children develop their language in conversation with others, so it is a good idea not just to look at the animals or exhibits, but also to talk to each other about what you are seeing and experiencing.
A trip to zoo or museum inevitably ends in the museum store, where I make it a habit to allow the kids to get a souvenir as long as they also pick out a book that they would like to read.
Summer reading loss is a phenomenon that is born of a lack of access to books and literacy experiences. As teachers we need to make sure our children have the tools of literacy and that parents are informed about what they can do to combat summer loss. As parents we need to be sure our kids have a library card and family experiences that encourage literate interactions.