Summer reading for play and progress

Summer is finally here! The days are longer and the sun is warmer. The barbecue is on and friends and family play outdoors. As you savor the changes I encourage you to weave reading into your summer days and nights. The children in your life will benefit so much.

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Babies love to read. So do toddlers. “Books build better brains” says Reach out and Read and their web site has simple yet powerful ways to foster the habit of reading with even the smallest child. Reading aloud helps children acquire early language skills, develop positive associations with books and helps children build a stronger foundation for school success.

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Click image to enlarge graphic. Source: The First Book Blog

For school-age children, summer reading is key for maintaining and strengthening the literacy skills gained in the previous school year. On the PBS Parents web site national education consultant Julie M. Wood, Ed.D. says that “the stakes for children who do not read over summer vacation are high. Substantial research on this topic shows it’s usually the students who can least afford to lose ground as readers who are most likely to suffer from summer reading loss and fall far behind their peers. The few months of loss in reading skills compounds over the years; by the time children reach middle school, those who haven’t read during the summers may have lost as much as two years worth of achievement.”

Dr. Wood says that if children read just six books over summer vacation, they will likely avoid summer reading loss. From PBS here are a few ideas for reaching–and going beyond–this six book goal:

  • Take books with you and your child everywhere you go (to the doctor’s office, on a road trip, to the swimming pool, etc.)
  • Let your child choose the books she wants to read (as long as they’re age-appropriate and are written at the just right level of difficulty).
  • Support his reading experience by talking about the books and helping him understand and interpret what he reads. Read aloud to your child, even if he can read on his own. It helps build vocabulary and listening comprehension skills.
  • As you’re reading aloud, be sure to interact with your child by asking what she thinks might happen next, what a certain character is likely to do, whether the story is real or make-believe, and so forth. Ask her what she thinks the next chapter will be about and depending on her age, ask her to write about it.
  • If you are more comfortable reading to your child in a language other than English, by all means do so. What your child learns in his or her native language will help create a bridge to learning English.
  • Encourage your child to participate in a summer reading program. Many libraries host them. Some bookstores do, too. Many programs offer fun incentives to keep kids progressing (i.e. ice cream coupons, tickets to a ball game, etc.) You might also consider the PBS KIDS Reading Challenges which runs throughout the summer months.

In addition to reading books, children can practice their reading skills by engaging in many different online reading experiences. Literacy-building sites such as PBS KIDS Island for children ages 3-5, and the Great Word Quest for ages 6-8 (both of which are free) are great examples.

Do you have ideas and techniques that work well? I’d like to hear about them. Enjoy your summertime reading adventures!

Wanda J. Montgomery is President of the Black Child Development Institute – Milwaukee Affiliate and a WECA Board Member. She is also Director of Community Partnerships at Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin. Her favorite place to read is in the comfort of her family room.

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