As simple as it sounds, reading books can reverse the summer slide in literacy skills for even the poorest children. Richard Allington, a professor at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, and his colleagues found that giving kids 12 books to read over the summer was as effective as summer school in raising the students’ reading scores. The increase in test scores was especially pronounced for those who were most economically disadvantaged.
The children in Allington’s study were allowed to pick their own books, and while parents may cringe at their selections (most popular: a biography of Britney Spears), the researchers believe that giving students a choice of reading material is a critical part of their intervention: not only are the kids more motivated to read the books, but the words and facts they learn build on knowledge they already possess.
Another study — this one led by James Kim of the Harvard Graduate School of Education — found that regardless of family income, the effect of reading four to five books over the summer was large enough to prevent a decline in reading-achievement scores from the spring to the fall. Kim’s other finding: children who said they had easy access to books over the summer ended up reading more. So seasonal alarm bells aside, the best way to push back against the summer slide is with your library card.
Here are tips for your readers (Mraz, M. and Rasinksi, T. (2007). Summer Reading Loss, The Reading Teacher):
- Talk to your child about what he or she is reading.
- Ask open ended questions such as “What do you think about that story?” and “What would you have done if you were that character?”
- Make reading a regular part of your daily home activities. Let your child see you reading for real purposes and enjoyment.
- Visit the public library! Help your child get his or her own library card.
- Read to your child regularly, even after your child is able to read books independently.
- Listen to your child read. Use strategies to help your child with tricky words. For example, when your child comes to an unfamiliar word, you might say, “Skip it and read to the end of the sentence. Now try again, what makes sense and looks like the word that you see?”
- Praise your child’s efforts at reading.
- Set reasonable limits for “screen time,” including television viewing, video game playing, and Internet.