The final bell of the school year rings, and children “en masse” rush out of the building flinging aside their book bags shouting “No more teachers, no more books…”
No more books? Not if they want to avoid the summer learning slide, the loss of skills many children experience after months away from the classroom. Summer vacation is an important time for kids to regenerate, learn and grow as they can only do with some self-directed, unstructured time. However, books don’t need to be the enemy of vacation. With the freedom to select their own reading materials, summer break is the ideal time for kids to become real readers.
"Kids who lack access to books tend to experience learning losses during the summer months,” says Children's Literacy Foundation Spokesperson Katie Titterton. “When school starts again, their skill levels are lower than they were in June. But, kids who read for pleasure can actually increase their vocabulary and a host of other skills ranging from problem solving to empathy.”
Eileen Lambert, of Saddle River Day School, stresses the importance of raising readers: “The entire generation we’re raising right now is at a tremendous deficit in creating visualization because their lives are surrounded all the time with visual representation.” However, swapping out screen time for book time is not something many kids do voluntarily.
So, how do we get kids to read, particularly over the summer when they may shun anything that resembles schoolwork? Examiner posed this question to literacy experts, writers and authors. Here are some of their suggestions:
- Take reading to new wacky places
Make a passport for your child, suggests Laura Woodside, co-author of “Playful Writing.” A notebook will do. “Who will read first in a tree house, in a tent, on a subway, in the sand, on an airplane, in the bathtub, under a bed, in the neighbor's house?” You can keep track in your own notebook.
- Challenge your kids to challenge the text
“Kids like to question facts,” says author Hemanth Gorur. “Kids like to prove things wrong.” While this can be frustrating when trying to convince your kids they need to eat vegetables, it does offer an opportunity to develop critical thinking skills. Gorur suggests you give your child some reading material — a newspaper article, comic strip, novel, etc. — and ask them to jot down questions related to the content or list what they believe is wrong with the material. This requires reading for meaning and can lead to some analytical thinking and interesting conversations.
- Unplug your children
Pull out the ear buds, turn off the smart phone, and unplug the TV. Allow your kids to experience life without electronics, at least for part of each day. Lambert suggests finding books for your child that have not been made into movies. Encourage your children to visualize the characters and settings. Ask them to describe what they see. This provides an opportunity for a child to use his or her imagination rather than depend on a movie director or actor to paint the scene.
- Go beyond the book
Maggie McGuire, Vice President of eScholastic, Kids and Parents Channels, suggests making the reading “real” by traveling to destinations mentioned in books, if possible, or visit a place related to the theme of the book your child is reading. For example, if the story is about survival on a deserted island, take a trip to a nearby beach and have your child imagine the challenges faced by the book’s characters. “Reading The Mixed Up Files of Mrs.Basil E. Frankweiler? Head to the art museum and imagine you're Claudia and Jamie sleuthing through the halls of amazing art.”
- Be an author, be a critic
Anyone may post a book review at Amazon.com. Kids may be more eager to read knowing they have the important role of literary critic to fill. Author and literacy consultant Dr. Connie Herbert suggests introducing your children to Amazon’s review pages where they can post their own opinions.
Herbert also suggests having kids try their hand at authorship. The processes involved in reading and writing are the same. Practice with one supports the other. Scribblitt is one option for publishing children’s’ work. The playful site allows kids to write, illustrate and share their stories at no cost. If your child wishes a professionally printed hardcover version, that may be purchased through the site. Of course, kids can always make their own books on a home computer or by hand.
The Scholastic Summer Reading Challenge may provide your child with some extra incentive to read. It is a free, online summer reading program. Kids log in their reading minutes to reach goals and have the opportunity to win prizes.
All the experts recommend spreading a wide variety of reading materials throughout the house. Keep books in the car, in the beach bag and anywhere else they will be easy to grab should a reading opportunity arise. Make books a constant presence in your child’s life. “Reading over the summer doesn't have to be a laborious, dreaded chore,” says Woodside. “Making reading a playful, social experience is a great way to ignite a passion in reading for the whole family during summer vacation!”