Skip to content

Fun reading during summer break can improve child’s classroom work


Summer reading can provide a wealth of help to any student returning to school in the fall. Every school district nationwide and their partners with the city library will agree that students who pick up three to four books during the months-long break will be better prepared academically, when they return to school.

The Palmdale Library has been an advocate of summer reading for many years, and will conduct a “Reading By Design” program through July 29.

The program is designed to give secondary school students the opportunity to complete library-related activities and earn prizes along the way to better develop good reading habits and enhanced comprehension. The youngsters can keep track of their progress each week by virtue of a unique “coloring page” that will feature a well-known landmark in Palmdale.

Building early confidence

“This is a reading program truly for all ages,” said Jamielee Beck, youth librarian. “With ‘Reading By Design,’ as our theme, this year’s program will focus on design, art and creativity. It’s great as an opportunity to build your brain, build your confidence and build your community.”

The Palmdale program is an offshoot of a program developed by the California Library Association in working with local libraries to help manage, present and engage communities with summer reading opportunities for youth. The Los Angeles Public Library operates a similar program in which young people are encouraged to complete 10 hours of reading in conjunction with four sponsored activities to qualify for a prize at the end of summer.

Numerous studies indicate that students who don’t read or read infrequently during their summer vacation see their reading abilities stagnate or decline. This effect can become more pronounced as students get older and advance through the school system. The situation for economically disadvantaged students is particularly concerning, because if these children don’t practice their reading skills over the summer, they are much more likely to fall behind their more privileged peers, thereby widening the “achievement gap” so often discussed by educators, psychologists and, frequently, by politicians.

Avoid the ‘summer slide’

In what is sometimes referred to as the “summer slide,” it is not uncommon for children to forget about reading when a book is not presented to them everyday as it is during the school year. The U.S. Department of Education (ED) suggests that it doesn’t matter what kind of informative or entertaining book a child reads. As long as they are engaged in the text, the more likely they will develop good reading habits. The ED suggests that parents encourage their children to read books they enjoy for at least 30 minutes each day during the summer break. The child can be expected to be more engrossed in material they choose themselves, rather than material that is forced on them. Parents should provide incentives for reluctant readers. For example, if  the child enjoys basketball, agree to take them to the local court, if they complete their ‘daily reading” assignment. Parents may also establish a specific time during the day when all members of the family gather together and read on their own, or take turns reading the same book aloud. Also, parents can connect reading to family outings. If, for example, you take the child to the zoo, you can head to the book store afterwards and select an age-appropriate book on one or more of the animals you saw earlier. This method of encouragement can place the reading into a broader context.

Johns Hopkins University conducted research a few years ago focusing on the subject, revealing that children can experience reading and overall learning loss when they are not engaged regularly in active education. The study advocated for summer programs such as Reading By Design because they serve as a continuation of a child’s academic pursuit. “Enrolling in reading programs will help students to develop good reading habits that will help them in life. Reading programs provide children with the opportunity to develop reading many books that interest them, thereby forming good reading habits without realizing it,” according to the study.

Closing the ‘achievement gap’

The National Summer Learning Association (NSLA), a national nonprofit that focuses on closing the achievement gap between low-income and high achieivers by increasing summer learning opportunities, reported last year that every summer, low-income youth may lose two to three months in reading while their higher-income peers make measurable gains because there are no age-appropriate books readily available at home. And these reading losses can add up, they say, because by the fifth grade, summer learning loss can leave low-income children anywhere from two and one-half to three years behind their more affluent peers. As well, the organization reports that students experience significant learning loss, when they do not participate in educational activities during the summer months. The “gap” in reading exercises, reportedly, can result in lower on-average standardized test scores at the end of the next semester than they would ordinarily be, if reading were a year-round exercise.

The achievement gap in reading scores between higher- and lower-income students is said by many teachers to grow significantly during the summer months often because one or more parents must work, therefore there is no one around to assist in daily reading exercises, especially if the child is just beginning to master reading. With this family dynamic in mind, the NSLA suggests that summer learning become a community-wide commitment with schools, libraries and community organizations such as the Boys and Girls Clubs ensuring that there are plenty of programs available to all students, no matter what socioeconomic status.  With a collaborative effort, educators say, the quality and accessibility of summer reading will increase from city to city and students will see a direct benefit, when school is back in session in the fall.

Less access to books in summer

The so-called “summer slide” in reading can have adverse effects on early learners, particularly those children who may still struggle with reading fluency and comprehension. In 2011, the ED estimated that school summer breaks can cause the average student to lose up to one month of instruction, with disadvantaged students (i.e. those with few age-appropriate books at home) being disproportionately affected. Education researchers concluded that two-thirds of the ninth grade reading gap can be explained by unequal access to summer learning opportunities during the grade school years, with nearly one-third of the gap present because students retain the deficit before returning to school.

Students from both better-off and disadvantaged backgrounds usually make similar achievement gains during the school year, because they’re constantly in front of some type of reading material.  But during the summer months, disadvantaged children tend to fall significantly behind in reading. The Department 0f Education study noted that differences in out-of-school access to books, positive reading practices, and connections with programs that foster good reading and self discovery habits may account for much of the disparity in student academic success.

Reading advocates have generally confirmed that students who take part in their local library’s summer reading program significantly improve their reading skill. Data collected from the ED suggests that children who participate in these programs are 52 Lexile points (a scale used by educators to measure reading ability and text demand) ahead of their peers who do not participate in a specific program of reading enhancement during the summer months. Summer reading programs can be an antidote for learning loss, and those children who participate in these programs have been known to show significant gains not only in reading, but in all aspects of classroom study.

Building a child’s vocabulary

Studies have shown that children who read at least four small books over a three-month time span either maintained or improved their reading skills; student’s vocabulary scores reportedly increase, their comprehension of more complex subjects is enhanced, and their concentration is improved because they have learned to stay with a classroom task and not lose interest until successful completion of the assignment.

The NSLA looked grade school students and found that between the end of third grade and the beginning of the fourth, students are especially susceptible to summer learning loss. At the end of the third grade, many students are required to take a state-administered standardized test. If their scores are not sufficient, they are often given the choice of repeating their present grade or attending summer school and retaking tests. The NSLA study focused on the third grade, because by the time students reach fourth grade they are expected to have made the transition from “learning to read” to “reading to learn.” During this critical stage of reading development, a summer reading program was said to help reduce the number of students who had to repeat the third grade, because they were able to start the new school year with a bigger vocabulary and better comprehension of grade-level reading materials.

Read with your child often

Other surveys have been conducted to include both teacher and parental assessments of summer reading programs. Teachers generally believed that students who participated in summer reading programs entered the following school year with a positive attitude about reading, were more confident in the classroom, read beyond what was required, and perceived reading as important. Fourth-grade teachers, specifically, observed that their young charges began the school year more prepared to learn, had improved their reading achievement, appeared to have increasing reading enjoyment and were more motivated to read than their peers who didn’t take part in such a program.

Parents also noticed a difference. They observed that their kids read more than those who didn’t participate in summer reading programs, and the children were better prepared when they entered school in the fall. Apparently, parents of summer readers went to the library more often, had more age-level books at home, and offered more literary activities at home such as reading with their children, and more Internet access (both at the library and at home).

Another finding from the ED was that girls are more likely than boys to engage in summer reading. They suggested that public libraries create more programs that attract more boys and minorities, including more active and less passive exercises such as games and crafts programs that encourage creativity, more computer games, and age-appropriate magazines and novels which are all things that can encourage boys to read at home and visit the library more often. Also, the ED recommended that more funds be invested into summer reading programs, especially in public libraries that serve children in low-income areas. They would like to make certain that more kids have access to books not only at school or at the neighborhood library, but at home as well.