By Kate Schoedinger
Bursting through the doors on the last day of school to gleefully embrace their old friend summer, students are not thinking about how to gain skills and insight to become more efficient and effective studiers in the fall. But just like sneaking kale into a protein shake, it’s easy for adults to offer opportunities that diffuse that infamous summer slide. Fresh air and outside time are perfect for unplugging and recharging so students experience success upon returning to school.
Over the summer, kids can finally read in ways that best suit them. They can take their device or book to a tent, to the backyard, to a grassy knoll, to a boat, or to the car. Kids can even read to their pets. This is a terrific way to practice oral reading. In my state of New Hampshire, there is a program called Paws to Read, and I have found that it benefits both readers and pets. A sunrise read or a sunset read can also be beautiful. Buddy reads are a wonderful way to share a book and engage in a lively discussion.
Make reading fun by taking your child on trips to the local library or bookstore. Have your child explore graphic novels and Manga—both of which are very popular with my 7th and 8th graders—find a cookbook and head to the kitchen, spend time reading the map when taking a trip, choose a magazine to subscribe to, head to a museum, or cozy up to a shady tree in the park to read. These suggestions foster the idea that summer reading can happen in short, frequent increments that maintain skills. Rereading favorites and finding books that are easy for your child to read will help him or her internalize and secure vocabulary.
Chances are that your child will watch an episode of SpongeBob. Surprise your child by setting the TV to closed captioning. I predict that he or she knows the words to the episode anyway! And if you’re headed off to the movies this summer, try having your child read the book as well. Robust discussions can take place about whether it’s better to read the book before or after the movie.
Geocaching is another engaging family activity. Combine it with a read of Katy Grant’s Hide and Seek, which features a geocaching mystery. This book makes a perfect read aloud, too. Kids will be riveted to learn what happens as Chase and his dog, Dexter, unravel the circumstances around a note left in a metal box he discovered on his first solo geocache during a summer in Arizona.
Animal stories and kids are an unsurpassed literary match. Katherine Applegate’s The One and Only Ivan is an exquisite journey of unexpected friendship. Inspired by the true story of a captive gorilla known as Ivan, Applegate tells this story of new friends from Ivan’s point of view. This book is the winner of the 2013 Newbery Medal and is a not-to-be-missed New York Times best seller.
Is hiking a family passion? Pair that interest with Peak by Roland Smith and climb into the Everest expedition that Peak Marcello is obligated to complete. Because of a risky decision scaling a New York City skyscraper and getting arrested for it, he is reunited with his father in Thailand. His dad runs Peak Expeditions and selfishly wishes for his son to become the youngest person to summit the world’s highest peak. Spellbound conflict ensues in this exciting read.
A compelling nonfiction hiking read about survival is Lost on a Mountain in Maine by Donn Fendler. Fendler offers his personal account as a 12-year-old Boy Scout on Mount Katahdin when he up a few steps behind his group and fell down an embankment. After hours of unsuccessful attempts to reunite, Fendler ended up lost for two harrowing weeks. His account of storms, bears, fear, and hunger is gripping.
Want to encourage your child to read in shorter increments since the day is so packed with activity? Try James Patterson’s Maximum Ride series. Bet you can’t read just one chapter! Chapters tend to be less than three pages and are filled with suspense, action, and the best cliffhangers in the business. You, too, will be rooting for Max!
Guinness Book of World Records and Ripley’s Believe It or Not! are also fantastic ways to add reading to your child’s day. These are ageless best sellers that stun with mind-boggling trivia to be enjoyed and shared over morning cereal, lunch sandwiches, grilled dinners, and campfire s’mores. Did you know that the Guinness Book of World Records receives more than 1,000 applications each week?
Word games are an animated way to develop kids’ vocabulary and help them practice comprehension. Mad Libs never fail to elicit laughter. There are Doctor Who, Star Wars, Star Trek, Finding Dory, and Diary of a Wimpy Kid Mad Libs to tickle your funny bone. Crossword puzzles improve kids’ verbal skills and allow them to practice problem-solving skills. A rousing game of Scrabble can have an effect on kids’ ability to solve visual word-recognition tasks. Can they see that listen and silent have the same letters? That could be a game changer for points scored!
Another way to improve your child’s reading is to have him or her write over the summer. Poetry, fictional stories, memoirs, and autobiographies can all help kids relate their thoughts and feelings, use their imaginations, and explore possibilities. See what discoveries can be made from their insights.
Research spanning 100 years shows that students typically score lower on standardized tests at the end of summer vacation than they do on the same tests at the beginning of the summer (White, 1906; Heyns, 1978; Entwisle & Alexander 1992; Cooper et al., 1996). But with these suggestions in place, the return to classrooms will have students ready to face the curriculum efficiently and effectively with no summer slide beyond a splash in the pool, lake, or ocean.
Click here for the ASCD Summer Reading List for educators who want to dive into their own summer learning.
Cooper, H., Nye, B., Charlton, K., Lindsay, J., & Greathouse, S. (1996). The effects of summer achievement on test scores: A narrative and meta-analytic review. Review of Educational Research, 66(3), 227–268.
Entwisle, D. R., & Alexander, K. L. (1992). Summer setback: Race, poverty, school composition and mathematics achievement. American Sociological Review, 57(1), 72–84.
Heyns, B. (1978). Summer learning and the effects of schooling. New York: Academic Press.
White, W. F. (1906). Reviews before and after vacation. New York Times.
Kate Schoedinger has been a classroom teacher and reading specialist in Bedford, N.H., since 1984. She also teaches at Saint Anselm College.