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Getting Kids To Read Over the Summer

Summer sizzles when you add the excitement of a good book! But if kids take a vacation from reading, skills may fizzle over the break.

Found in: Teaching Strategies

You’ve put in a lot of hard work to get your students on a path to reading and learning success, but research shows that children, especially those from low-income families, can lose up to three months of reading progress over the summer months, and that loss has a cumulative, long-term effect.

Many educators still turn to the required summer reading list to encourage students to read, but that can often make reading seem more of a chore than a pleasure.

“Rather than a list of required reading or suggested reading that ‘meets academic needs,’ we should offer kids a list of ‘books you won’t be able to put down’ to keep kids engaged in summer reading,” says Missouri educator Kim Broadley. “There are tons of books that students will fall in love with that can be used as hooks to the academically required books.”

Her suggestion is backed by research from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, that found that allowing low-income children to pick out their own free books at spring book fairs not only helped close the summer reading gap, it worked just as effectively as summer school. The results of the study confirmed the findings of earlier studies showing children read more and ultimately learn more when they’re allowed to select their own books.

Here are some other ways and suggestions for keeping your students reading over summer break.

Start in Your Classroom

  • Read aloud to students and let them see you reading, using the library, or recommending books to colleagues and students. Children who see and hear teachers and other adults reading and discussing books will understand that reading is a fun activity that’s worth talking about.
  • Create a themed book display in your room, and showcase titles that will appeal to your students. Read book sections aloud to introduce titles that are new to the display, or include student reviews of the titles you’ve put out.
  • Make time for reading. Provide students with a daily opportunity to read their chosen book at their own pace. They’ll get excited about reading, gain confidence in their ability, and be encouraged to read at home.

Make Sure Students Have Something to Read Over the Summer

  • Turn kids on to great books and get adults actively involved in helping kids find appropriate books. NEA’s booklists are a great place for book recommendations.
  • Encourage your school to lend out books over the summer. Register with First Book and gain access to free new books and to deeply discounted new books and educational materials or find other national and local programs and organizations that can help you send books home with kids.
  • Connect your students to the public library and let parents and kids know about free summer reading incentive programs. Work with your local public library to ensure kids get the word about summer reading fun at the library and share links to sign-ups for national programs sponsored by Scholastic, Barnes & Noble, and others.

Make Parents Your Partners

Turn parents on to helpful resources and offer them simple techniques to help improve student fluency and comprehension skills. A few to suggest:

  • The free engaging, research-based ideas from Start with a Book build on what young children already like—dinosaurs, building, animals, sports, superheroes, music and more—so that parents can have fun and interact meaningfully with children while helping to strengthen their reading skills.
  • Created by experts to be fun, educational, and easy to use outside of school, ReadWriteThink has materials for parents to help their K-12 kids learn all year long.
  • Wonderopolis®, a place where wonder and learning are nurtured through the power of discovery, creativity and imagination, engages and inspires families in the pursuit of education and learning together.
  • Encourage parents or community groups to start a neighborhood book club and make reading a social summer activity. Share these tips on how to start a club and encourage great discussions about books.
  • Speak out about summer reading. Make sure your community gets the important message about the value of reading through the summer. Send out summer reading tips to your local media or arrange to address meetings of local service clubs, churches or synagogues to share ideas about how the community can get involved in keeping kids reading during the summer.

Finally, look for the fun in turning students on to reading. Humor always helps, especially when you tickle their funny bone with a tailor-made music video the way the staff at Sprague Elementary School in Wellesley, Massachusetts, does each year, They've also performed to the music of Usher and Flo Rida with memorable moves by all of the school staff.

"The more we let students know reading is fun, the more we keep them turning the pages," says Sprague fourth-grade teacher Taryn Drake.

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