LEWISTOWN - What happens to children's reading skills during school vacation? Research has shown that if children do not continue to practice reading during the time when school is not in session, they lose valuable vocabulary and comprehension skills. This can be a set back for children who are good readers and devastating for children who already have reading difficulties.
Parents and caring adults who work with children can combat and even reverse this tendency with some simple, effective techniques and activities. With an adult's help, children can return to school with the same skills they had before vacation.
Many schools offer reading lists of books for children, and these lists are sent home at the end of the school year. In some instances, these are required reading for children before the start of the next school year. In other cases, teachers suggest that children read books from curriculum tools, such as Accelerated Reader. While these lists are certainly laudable, children often perceive this as "homework" and read reluctantly, rather than reading what interests or challenges them personally.
Pleasure reading is like eating a favorite food. It feels good and provides happiness. However fleeting, there is a sense of fulfillment and contentment. Whether re-reading an old favorite or finding a new story, pleasure reading evokes that same satisfaction and/or accomplishment. During the school year, children are often bombarded with homework, assignments and required readings and they forget that reading can be fun.
Librarians have long recognized that school vacations and pleasure reading go hand-in-hand. They are also aware of the research that correlates loss of reading skills with school vacations. To this end, public libraries have created reading programs that engage children and families and encourage pleasure reading during times when school is not in session.
Usually designed around a theme, librarians plan programs and self-directed reading activities that are age- and skill-appropriate. Families are given a "log" to track reading activity. This may include space for listing titles of books read or time spent reading. Families are encouraged to visit the library in an ongoing, systematic way.
Thematic programs and activities are offered as an integral part of encouraging participation. The old adage "a spoon full of sugar helps the medicine go down" certainly applies to public library summer reading programs. The children perceive the materials and activities as fun (the sugar) while parents and librarians know that pleasure reading is really the medicine that helps children maintain their reading skills.
As plans for camps, vacations and child care are finalized for the summer months, it's also important to take the same care in arranging for your child's reading activities:
Plan to participate in your local public library's summer reading program. Call or visit the library to find out when the program begins and what activities are planned.
Allow children to pick books they want to read, rather than what you think they should read.
Read every day, setting aside 30 minutes to read together as a family.
Set a goal for time you would like to spend reading, and when you reach that goal, reward yourself and your children with a fun activity such as a picnic or visit to a theme park.
Have fun and enjoy the summer!