It’s that time of year again: fireflies, baseball games, barbeques and summer break for the kids. As you make lists of activities to keep your kids entertained and engaged, it’s important to consider building their literacy skills as well.
Each summer, many students fail to engage in sufficient literacy activities (reading, writing, listening and speaking) to maintain the reading performance level they had upon finishing their prior grade level, causing their reading ability to fall behind as the years progress. This barrier even has a name: Summer Reading Setback. If the setback accrues every summer, by sixth grade, the gap in reading skills can widen to up to 2 ½ years.
Fortunately, there is a solution: create a motivating summer reading program. A successful program contains the following important components.
Allowing kids to choose what they read has been shown to have a positive effect on reading motivation. While some of their choices may not be as appealing to adults, the important thing to keep in mind is increasing the amount of interaction between what is written and what is read. While you may not be thrilled with The Wimpy Kid or Captain Underpants series, these books do provide an opportunity for students to practice reading and comprehension.
Chances are, if a child cannot find a motivating book or magazine to read, she will not read. Trips to the library or bookstore can remedy this problem. Kids are often motivated by the titles and cover art on books, so seeing books in person is helpful. If your child is particularly motivated by electronics, online books are a good option. Ultimately, the goal of providing access is eliminating the excuse of the child saying, “There’s nothing here I want to read.”
“JUST RIGHT” BOOKS
If your child is able to read at the third-grade level, but he’s going into the fifth grade, forcing him to read a fifth-grade-level book is going to lead to nothing but frustration for him and for you. When a reader feels frustration, he shuts down. Consider a time when you’ve had to read something from a textbook or article that was outside of your own expertise. Chances are you had to stop several times, sound words out, look words up and reread. This is not very motivating. If you are unsure of your child’s reading level, you can always apply the five finger rule:
Ask your child to
1. Choose a book she thinks she will enjoy;
2. Read the second page;
3. Hold up a finger for each word she is not sure of, or doesn’t know.
If she holds up five or more fingers, this book is probably not a “just right” book. Again, the only way to improve a child’s reading level is to provide him with books that are within his current level. Forcing a child to read books that are too difficult will simply frustrate both of you.
MOTIVATING ACTIVITIES FOR SUMMER READING
Book swaps: Organizing a neighborhood or friend book swap is an excellent way to build motivation for summer reading. Kids are often encouraged to read books when other kids recommend them. Inviting children of a variety of ages and genders ensures different levels and topics.
Informational magazines: All children can benefit from reading informational articles about an interesting topic. Consider a subscription to Time for Kids, Sports Illustrated for Kids, National Geographic for Kids or any other children’s magazine. One excellent online tool for accessing informational articles is Newsela.com. On this site, you can choose from a wide variety of topics, then choose a reading level. The magic of the internet produces an article on a particular topic at a level appropriate for your child.
Reading together: If your child is able to read short novels, consider reading the book yourself. This encourages conversation, which will deepen comprehension. Also, no matter the age of your child, reading aloud for 20-30 minutes every day is absolutely vital. This not only provides appropriate
modeling, but also an opportunity for you to share how you have made sense of what was just read. Stopping at various points in the book and making comments like, “I’m confused here; I think I’ll go back and reread” or “I can really picture this in my mind” allows your child to discover the strategies a proficient reader uses.
Audiobooks: Audiobooks are an excellent choice, especially if a long car trip is in the works for the summer. They encourage comprehension because they free up brain space and allow children to listen to more challenging books that might otherwise be unavailable to them because of their reading level.
In conclusion, it’s important to remember that reading during the summer will keep your child’s literacy skills sharp for the return to school. Any reading, writing or discussion activities they engage in will stimulate growth in this area. Reading is magic; help your child discover it this summer.
By Dr. Mary Ann Cahill
Dr. Mary Ann Cahill is an associate professor of literacy and the chair of the Master of Arts in Teaching program at Bellarmine University. She is an avid reader herself, and her research is focused on promoting literacy skills for early readers. She has published several articles on Summer Literacy, Early Reading Comprehension, Promoting Reading Fluency and Writing with Young Children.