What does summer mean to you?
How does your family spend the summer break from school? Sports? Swimming? Visits to the park? There are a lot of great ways to enjoy summertime, which may or may not involve reading. Growing up, my summers were filled with summer reading. I remember making frequent visits to the local library and reading for fun all summer long. Until recently, I had never heard of the "summer slide" -and it certainly had nothing to do with my reasons for reading as a child.
So what is it?
Put simply, the summer slide describes the loss of academic skills that some children experience over an extended break from school. One might assume that a break from summer learning will only impact kids for a short while at the beginning of the next school year, but research shows that it can impact their academic skills for years to come.
In 1978, Barbara Heyns published a book titled "Summer Learning" which drew attention to the fact that achievement gaps between socioeconomic and race/ethnicity groups widen over the summer break from school. Research continues to back up these findings, with many professional organizations citing research conducted at John Hopkins University published in 2007, which found achievement gaps at the 9th grade level could be traced back to gaps in summer learning during the elementary school years (Alexander, Entwisle & Olson, 2007).
What can be done?
There are a variety of ways parents and communities can promote learning while children are on break from school. For most families, simply ensuring access to interesting books is an important part of the equation. Many libraries recommend that children read at least six books over the summer, and offer incentive programs to encourage summer reading.
My family's primary goal for this summer is to limit electronic and "passive" entertainment while encouraging our kids to do activities that keep their bodies fit and their minds sharp. So yes, swimming, parks, museums, and neighborhood walks are on the agenda. We are encouraging "hands on learning" by letting our kids help care for plants in our little container garden, and letting them help with simple recipes in the kitchen. Finally, we are building a home library with books that interest them -summer is a great time to let children choose what they would like to learn without the schedule or constraints of a formal curriculum.
What types of books should I provide to my child?
My personal answer is "think beyond simple story books" and "ask your child, he or she might surprise you!"
I recently placed an order of books for my children. Before completing my order, it occurred to me to let my kids flip through a copy of the book catalog and let THEM tell me what looked interesting. I was shocked when my 7 year old excitedly told me he "hit the jackpot" by finding a book about DNA. I knew he liked science, but I had no idea that he would enjoy a book about DNA (and was even more surprised to find that the book was written at this reading level). I should also add that last fall this same child was complaining about reading at school -it turned out he was being given books that were boring to him and too easy for him to read. Once I began to introduce him to more complex chapter books and interesting non-fiction books, his love of reading was restored.
Ideas by age group:
Still aren't sure what books might interest your child? Here are some additional suggestions:
Babies: Soft cloth books, touch-and-feel board books, story books for cuddling & bedtime, waterproof bath books, and books with a high contrast black/white/red color scheme for young infants
Toddlers and Preschoolers: Story books, sticker & wipe-clean books for fine motor skills development, and engaging non-fiction books
Elementary school children: Story books (to include chapter books as child's reading level progresses), non-fiction books, and a variety of activity books (learn to draw, fold paper airplanes, or other activity books that match a child's interest)
Tweens and Teens: Chapter story books, non-fiction books, and "How To" books for areas of interest. If an older child hasn't yet developed a love of reading, it may help to select humorous books or an engaging mystery or other "page turner."
Alexander, K. L., Entwisle, D., & Olson, L. (2007). Lasting consequences of the summer learning gap. American Sociological Review, 72, 167–180.
Kristina Johnson is a homeschooling mama who is passionate about childhood education and the quest for a healthy, clean lifestyle. Visit the "about" section to learn more about Kristina, her family of seven, and the mission of the "learning and laughing" website.