Summer reading—you just can’t get away from it. It seems as though I have been writing about it nonstop. And still, on my way to tour Theodore Roosevelt’s Sagamore Hill estate yesterday, my master’s-degree-student daughter read aloud a digital sign outside the super-lovely Oyster Bay High School as we sailed by: “Enjoy summer reading!” She smiled—with relief, I’m sure, thinking that is no longer her problem.
I wrote recently about the value of focusing kids’ summer reading on books they choose for themselves and about why reading for enjoyment rather than for skill improvement gets better summer results (and better lasting results once kids go back to school). Now I want to share some facts from an article I just read by Lisa Hansel and Robert Pondiscio in Education Week Teacher. I have known these facts for many years, after seeing it all firsthand while working with teachers on curriculum projects all over the country. You might know these facts, too, if you are paying close attention to what your own kids are being taught in school. Here are a few crucial quotations from the article:
- “A nationally representative survey found that in grades K–3, just 19 minutes a day are devoted to science and a mere 16 minutes to social studies.”
- “The situation is not much better in grades 4–6, where just 45 minutes a day are devoted to social studies and science combined.”
- “Worse yet: Research indicates that schools serving our neediest students spend even less time on these important—and inspiring—subjects.”
- “A child does not become a strong reader by learning to sound out words and practicing reading alone (though these are important). Reading comprehension—the ability to make meaning from text—is largely a reflection of a child’s overall education. Good readers tend to know at least a little about a broad range of things.”
So, why the short shrift given to social studies and science? One reason is that teachers in some school districts are actually being asked—or required—to devote more and more minutes to teaching reading each day (often, though not always, to improve reading test scores). Another reason is that some teachers, especially in the primary grades, feel more comfortable teaching reading than social studies and much more comfortable teaching reading than science. But, whatever the causes, the effects can be disastrous.
Authors Hansel and Pondiscio work on Knowledge Matters, a campaign designed to solve the problem, according to their website:
“Nearly every major educational goal—from improving reading comprehension and critical thinking to problem solving and creativity—is knowledge based. Without a solid foundation of content knowledge built from the first days of school, higher academic standards and better student outcomes will not be achieved. Fifty years of research definitively [show] that knowledge is vital to language comprehension—the starting line for all other learning and analysis. Broad, shared knowledge is vital to citizenship, too, yet the curriculum of many schools has narrowed. To address this challenge, we must ensure that history, science, geography, art, music, and more are generously taught to all students, especially those least likely to gain such knowledge outside school.”
Maybe we can work on summer reading and the unfortunately missing subject matter content in elementary schools at the same time.
Parents of elementary school students, do this now: Look for some great summer reading books that contain subject matter content. Let your kids choose from among them. Here are a few great series in the arts and sciences (I cannot emphasize strongly enough how good these books are):
- The Adventures in Art series (published by Prestel Verlag) offers drop-dead gorgeous books about artists and their works, with fantastic illustrations, probably most suitable for students in grades 3 and up. Parents, you will find them lovely and enjoyable, too. Choose from a huge variety, including Paul Klee: Animal Tricks; The Mad, Mad, Mad World of Salvador Dali; Frida Kahlo: The Artist in the Blue House; Marc Chagall: Life is a Dream; One Day in Japan with Hokusai; Edward Hopper: Summer at the Seashore; Claude Monet: The Magician of Color; and many more.
- The Getting To Know the World’s Greatest Artists series (written and illustrated by Mike Venezia) offers easy-to-read artist biographies, with funny illustrations as well as reproductions of works of art, probably most suitable for students in grades K–2 (though, believe me, I have learned plenty from them myself). Choose from Vincent van Gogh, Jackson Pollock, Georgia O’Keeffe, Edgar Degas, Pablo Picasso, Dorothea Lange, Pieter Bruegel, James McNeill Whistler, Rembrandt, Diego Velázquez, and many, many more.
- The Giants of Science series (written by Kathleen Krull) offers super-entertaining, not-at-all-dry biographies of world-famous scientists, probably most suitable for students in grades 4 or 5 and up (and for all parents—like me—who are not science geniuses themselves). Choose from Isaac Newton, Leonardo da Vinci, Marie Curie, Sigmund Freud, and more.
So, as the sign outside Oyster Bay High School said, “Enjoy summer reading!”