Yes, yuck (an interjection used to express disgust)! And this from a former English major. Who likes summer reading lists? Not the kids, who have them hanging over their heads all summer; not the parents, who have to persuade their kids to read all of the books in the last two weeks of summer vacation; not even the teachers, who can barely make themselves check in the fall to see if the reading ever really happened.
How did summer reading go so wrong? And isn’t it important for kids, especially for low-income kids who, according to research, lose more reading skills over the summer than other kids? If you have some time on your hands, take a look at an article by Anne McGill-Franzen, Natalia Ward, and Maria Cahill, cleverly titled “Summers: Some Are Reading, Some Are Not! It Matters” (in the April 27, 2016, online edition of The Reading Teacher, published by the International Literacy Association). It tells you more than you will ever need to know, as a parent, about summer reading, but here are a few simple points worth considering:
- According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the majority of our public school students (51 percent) are from poor families—for the first time ever.
- Many of these students do not have access to books to read in the summer. They don’t have them at home, and libraries are not easy and/or safe to get to for too many of them—both in urban and in rural areas.
- When school programs give books away to kids to read in the summer, those programs typically get fantastic results.
- When kids are allowed to choose the books they are given for summer reading, those results can be even better.
- When summer reading is approached as a way for students to enjoy themselves rather than as a way for them to improve their reading skills, those results can be better still.
As a parent, I am sure I did a hundred things wrong when it came to my own children’s summer reading. Just ask my daughter. For example, once they got to middle school, I thought they should be reading only great books; time was a short, I used to say. Too many classics, too little time. Perhaps if I had seen the research then, I would have known that reading for enjoyment was likely to produce better, longer-lasting positive effects both on their attitudes toward reading and on their actual reading skills.
Perhaps I should have remembered what fun I had going to the library as a child and finding the next little orange-covered fictionalized biography of some great American historical figure—you know, baby boomers, the ones with the silhouette illustrations. (By the way, originally published as the Childhood of Famous Americans by the Bobbs-Merrill Co. in the 1940s and 1950s, they have been republished without orange covers or silhouettes—more’s the pity—by Patria Press.)
Maybe it’s not too late for you to remember.
It is time to take a look at the position your school and your school district takes about summer reading:
- Ask your school board to discuss its summer reading policy. It has one, doesn’t it? Does it state the purpose of summer reading? Does it focus on enjoyment or skill improvement? Does it include a position on summer reading lists and what kinds of books should be on them? Does it include a plan for giving away books to low-income students in your district? Shouldn’t it?
- If your school board doesn’t have any policy, what is your school doing about summer reading? Elementary schools, middle schools, and high schools all have a part to play in encouraging summer reading for their students. Talk with your principal and teachers about playing the right part. Talk with your PTA leaders about what the PTA can and should do. Parents’ voices should be heard on this topic. Is your voice loud enough?