Decades of research show that reading is one way to stem kids’ summer learning losses and bridge the achievement gap. But many, many years before those studies, adults were looking for ways to help children stimulate their thinking, improve their reading skills and have something constructive to do when school was out of session.
Public libraries took the lead. The origins of the summer reading log are more than a century old! Beginning in the 1890s, libraries began concerted efforts to reach kids in the summer with special programming, including read-alouds and book distributions on playgrounds and activities themed to children’s interests. Take a look at this paper on the history of youth summer reading programs in public libraries if you are curious to know even more about “vacation reading clubs” and summer reading themes of old.
When public libraries started summer reading programs, there wasn’t any research on how best to encourage kids to read during the summer months. There’s a growing body of research on what makes summer reading effective, but not everyone is on the same page when it comes to stemming the summer slide.
For some kids, summer reading is assigned — a list of titles from a teacher who wants certain books read and readers ready to discuss them when school begins again. Others get more relaxed recommendations and encouragement to head to the library, where summer reading is logged and rewarded with activities and prizes. Publishers and others offer incentive programs, but any one strategy to promote summer reading is unlikely to close the achievement gap all by itself.
TRC has created its own summer reading initiative, We Are Readers, that includes several strategies to prevent summer learning loss and build reading motivation. If you want summer reading to have a real impact:
Connect kids with titles that match their interests and abilities and are books they choose to read or have read to them. Find out what they like or are curious about by asking lots of questions and waiting for and listening to kids’ answers.
• If you need book recommendations, the free resources from Start with a Book build on what young children already like — dinosaurs, bugs, building, animals, sports, space, music and more — and provide fiction and nonfiction titles along with ideas for activities and suggestions to help get kids thinking, talking, creating and exploring.
• You’ll find similarly helpful recommendations for book titles and constructive conversations about themes with kid appeal in the Reading Road Maps featured on TRC’s Volunteer Central or in Read-Aloud summaries on this blog. Take cues from kids, then dive into topics like flatulence, superheroes, alligators or extreme weather.
Get books into kids’ hands. Kids need access to lots and lots of quality books that they can and want to read or have read to them. Do you spend your summer reading stuff you don’t want to? Don’t expect kids to either.
• Children participating in TRC's Read-Aloud program choose a new book each time they attend a Read-Aloud. Families in the Book Club are also given a choice of books when they order each month. Get to know the titles that are available for ownership and what’s on the shelves of the reading corner so you can be knowledgeable whenever guidance is needed.
• The public library is also a great place to choose books for summer reading. Search subject headings in local library catalogs online or WorldCat to help kids find books they want to read.
• Remember that reading material doesn’t have to be a book. Magazines, comics and graphic novels may be a better match for kids’ reading abilities and interests.
Talk, talk and talk some more! Ask questions and guide conversations so you can gauge whether kids get what they are reading or listening to. Talking with kids about what they read is one of the best ways to help them learn to read and think critically.
• Talk as you would when you read aloud, with appropriate pauses, good inflection and enthusiasm. Practice turn taking in conversation and try not to answer kids’ questions until they have finished asking them.
• It can be tricky for kids (and adults) to take what they are thinking and put it into words. But this process leads to a deeper understanding. It takes practice, as does listening to the thoughts of others. Make time to talk and listen.
As the days get hotter, summer reading might not be the first thing on kids’ minds. But get books in front of them, start reading and talking together and you’ll definitely make an impression with this old-fashioned way to beat the heat and fill long summer days.
Guest blog post by TRC Advisory Council member and Belle of the Book, Rachael Walker.
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