TRC Read to Kids

Welcome to The Reading Connection’s blog, where you’ll find the best guidance on reading aloud to kids. Whether you are a TRC Read-Aloud volunteer, parent or student, the book themes and crafts ideas, child development guidelines and recommended websites will expand your world. For 25 years, The Reading Connection has worked to improve the lives of at-risk kids by linking the magic of reading to fun experiences that inspire a passion for learning. Visit our website at

Monday, June 4, 2012

Use it or lose it! Tackling summer reading loss

Summer is officially here. We've had our Memorial Day cookouts and the temperature and humidity are ramping up. Kids are getting excited about school getting out and educators across the country are worried about how much kids' abilities will deteriorate over the summer.

Summer reading loss is a real and cumulative problem.   
Available research indicates that the reading achievement of poor children, as a group, typically declines during the summer vacation period, while the reading achievement of children from more economically advantaged families holds steady or increases modestly.            
(Richard Allington and Anne McGill-Franzen, Phi Delta Kappan, September, 2003.)

Moreover, researchers have found that these losses are cumulative over time. So if two kids are at the same reading level at the beginning of second grade, by the time they reach the end of sixth grade, the poor child can be nearly three years behind. Studies show that there is little or no difference between the children’s achievement while school is in session. It is what happens over the summer that sets poor kids back.  

This video from Education Nation demonstrates the contrast between the summer experiences of underprivileged children versus those of their more affluent peers:

What factors cause this phenomenon? Poor kids face a triple threat over the summer in relation to their more affluent peers. They experience the following: 

Lack of access to books.
Poor kids have fewer books in their homes and less access to public libraries than middle-- and upper -- income kids. If you don't have any books, you can't practice your reading skills.

Lack of encouragement and motivation to read during the summer.
Poor kids are less likely to be involved in programs sponsored by libraries, book stores and communities that encourage and reward reading for fun over the summer. If reading isn't fun, kids are less likely to do it on their own.

Lack of resources and opportunities to build background knowledge. 
Poor kids' families have fewer resources to send their kids to summer camps or enrichment programs or to take family outings and trips than more affluent kids. 

Why do real-world experiences matter?
Real-world experiences build both vocabulary and background knowledge. These two factors influence reading comprehension. The more background knowledge a child has, the better he will understand what he's read, even if his vocabulary is inadequate.

Summer reading programs have been trying to address the first two problems for years, with varying success. Some schools send books home with kids over the summer to provide book access. Libraries and bookstores conduct summer reading programs and challenges to motivate kids to read.

TRC's We Are Readers summer reading initiative works to address all three. 

Access to books:  We continue our Read-Aloud program during the summer with all of our partner agencies, including the weekly opportunity for kids to choose books to keep. We also continue our Book Club program, which provides children's books to families through the mail.

Motivation:  At our participating We Are Readers sites, we create a bulletin board system to track how much kids read for fun, and each site sets aside time every day for the kids to read whatever they want to (or be read to).  This year our theme is the Olympics, so kids will be adding flames to a torch for every ten minutes they read for fun. We also provide prizes for site staff to give kids when they catch kids reading for fun. Seeing the torch get bigger and accumulating prizes motivates the kids to read, read, read.

Real-world experiences:  TRC makes real-world experiences central to the We Are Readers program. We make the participating sites' summer events calendars and children's programming plans available to our volunteers so that they can plan Read-Alouds that correlate to the kids' experiences. For example, if a site takes the kids to Great Falls, TRC volunteers might do a Read-Aloud about hiking and camping. TRC also brings in special guests and creates opportunities for the kids to have new experiences, such as preparing the kinds of foods a visiting zookeeper feeds the pandas at the National Zoo.

What can you do to make this summer one with learning gains instead of losses?

Participate in a local reading program through your public library, bookstore or The Reading Connection. In one week in May, 123 kids read for 15,000 minutes in the Arlington Kids Read Read-A-Thon. Keep the momentum going by joining TRC's We Are Readers summer initiative through the Arlington Kids Read website. We'll post our Olympics theme tracking materials as well as outlines from some of our favorite summer time Read-Alouds for you to use with young readers starting at the end of June.

Make sure the kids in your life have lots of books available to them. Visit the library, swap books with friends and search your shelves for old favorites that have been buried behind more recent titles. Include newspapers and magazines in what you offer kids during the summer. Check out Reading Rockets' summer reading list for ideas.

Use great resources like James Patterson's ReadKiddoRead website. He provides easy steps to make reading the thing to do this summer as well as a great list of books. Reading Rockets also has a handy guide to make sure your kids have fun reading this summer.  Finally, Reading Rockets has created a new summer reading program called Start With a Book.

Finally, try something new with your kids this summer. Teach them to garden, cook or fix a bike. Explore your neighborhood or visit a museum. Listen to a new kind of music together. Gather family stories from your elders. Every new experience builds vocabulary and background knowledge, improving comprehension. And the more you understand what you are reading, the more fun it is to read!

To receive credit for this online training, please fill out the form here.

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