Studies conducted over several years report that the summer break from school can cause a child to lose an estimated two months of reading achievement. There is some variation in the degree of loss because of family circumstances, and there are children whose reading skills remain the same or improve. What should a parent do?
Low-income families and one-parent families have less money and less time to help their children maintain good grades. There are usually fewer books, magazines, and newspapers in the home, and summer school classes are likely unaffordable. The parent or parents whose mother tongue is not English may be uncomfortable with their own language skills and hesitate to help their child with his, and a single parent may not have the time to monitor a child’s reading efforts.
However, parents who understand that reading skills influence all areas of a child’s academic progress are usually anxious to help their children, whatever the family situation. It’s not too late to encourage summertime reading practice—start today. Set goals and draw up a reading chart; post it on the fridge; get your child on board. Your child’s reading may even improve over the summer!
Early Readers Respond to These Incentives
Set a reasonable reading goal, which can be as simple as setting aside a certain amount of time for reading each day. Have a reward system in place so that your child receives praise and a suitable reward each week, and a final bigger reward at the end of the summer. Post a chart and have your child use stickers to track his progress.
- Even if you don’t have lots of books and magazines in your home, reading opportunities are all around. Encourage your child to read traffic signs, directions on packages, and appropriate jokes and cartoons. This miscellaneous reading not only helps your child practice, it reinforces the idea that reading is important, useful, and fun for everyone at every age. It all helps.
- Have your child read to you while you are doing your chores. If he doesn’t know a word, have him guess at it and go on reading. Maybe you can both figure it out after a few sentences. Give him whatever help he needs to make this an enjoyable activity. Remember, you are not trying to “teach” him to read, just “practice”: forget sounding out words if he doesn’t want to do that. Tell him the word if he asks.
- Go to the library with him and help him get his own library card and books in his areas of interest—sports, mysteries, joke books, etc. Choose books that are a grade lower than those of the books he reads in school so that reading is easier and more fun. The librarian will be happy to help you.
- When watching TV, enable the caption function and he will see as well as hear the words.
- Read with your child: sharing a bedtime story is wonderful.
Advanced Readers Respond to These Incentives
Your goal in encouraging summer reading is to make the experience as pleasant and as much fun as possible so that your child will cooperate willingly. Forget threats and lectures; promise rewards instead! Studies show that reading five books in the summer is as useful to a child as taking a reading course at summer school.
- Set a summer reading goal with the promise of a treat or a reward of some kind, not only at the end of the summer but weekly, as progress is made. Include lots of praise as well.
- Remember that the big rival for your child’s time for reading is television, gaming, and any age-appropriate use of apps that is allowed in your home. Don’t be afraid to set reasonable limits on these, but be sure to incorporate the reading and educational games that are available through various technologies so that your child doesn’t feel deprived.
- A good compromise with TV watching is to enable the captioning feature in movies and to turn down the volume. It means the story must be read rather than heard and this works especially well if it is a familiar movie. If others are watching, the child can read aloud for everyone. (If they hesitate over a word, supply it.)
- Have your child bring a book to the beach or go outside to read. A change of scenery can make reading more fun.
- Visit the public library frequently and make sure your child gets his own library card. Help him find books in his areas of interest. Ask the librarian for suggestions. (Librarians live for these opportunities!)
Even though the summer break can cause a child to lose about two months worth of reading skills, with encouragement and a reward system, a parent can prevent this loss and even help the child’s reading improve. If you have devised a good system for your children, please tell us about it in the comment section below.
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