By: Kendall Hunt RPD with contributions from the writing team of Pathways2.0 Reading Language Arts gr. 1-8
I was blessed to grow up in a house with shelves of books and weekly visits to the public library. For me, a lover of books, “summer reading” was a way of life rather than a chore. For many kids, however, the situation is different, and the “summer slide” is proof of the frequent lack of summer reading among students. There are many reasons why students don’t read over the summer. Below are three common reasons—and how teachers can combat them now, before locking their classroom doors for the summer.
REASON 1: “I don’t like reading”
Students who don’t like (or think they don’t like) reading can often be motivated to read about a topic they’re passionate about. After spending the past year with your students, you have a pretty good idea of their interests, so use what you know to recommend books they’d enjoy. Even better, recommend an author or series, which gives kids a list of books to grab once they’ve finished the first one.
Another unique method to spark children’s interest in a new topic is by taking the class on a “curiosity walk” outside, whether around the playground or through a nearby park or neighborhood (bear in mind safety concerns). On the walk, have them write down at least three things they see that they want to learn more about. Then, take a class field trip to the library, and show them how to use the library to find books about that topic. As an added bonus, such an excursion on a warm spring day can also help to cure the “end-of-year-wiggles” while promoting outdoor activities and exercise!
REASON 2: “Reading is boring”
Although external motivation shouldn’t become a crutch to encourage kids to read, for competitive students, reading contests can be positive. Progress should be tracked in minutes, with a reasonable daily goal (e.g., 15–30 minutes). Class websites or (for older students) Facebook pages allow students to track their progress and talk to each other about books during the summer. Alternatively, instead of a class contest, take advantage of any summer reading programs offered by your public library. Library programs often require kids to read for a set length of time in order to cross off a symbol on their chart, with prizes offered as students reach various levels. By making reading a game, students can rediscover the fun!
REASON 3: “I don’t have any books”
Some families can’t afford to keep their shelves stocked with books. According to Susan Neuman and David Dickinson’s Handbook of Early Literacy Research, the book-to-child ratio for middle-class families is 13:1, but for low-income families, "the ratio is 1 age-appropriate book for every 300 children." Even public libraries can’t always bridge the gap because working parents may not have the time or capability to take their kids to the library . . . and that’s assuming there is one to take them to. According to 2015 U.S. Department of Education data, 2.5 million U.S. students are enrolled in districts with no libraries, and 13 million are enrolled in districts where the available children's materials circulation is less than 10 per student.
One fun way to give students access to books (without singling out low-income students) is through an end-of-year school-wide book swap. Even students with plenty of books at home will enjoy the chance to trade their old books for new and exciting ones, and a swap lets kids talk about their favorite books to their friends—what better way to get them excited about literature? Find more information about how to host a book swap here. Even smaller initiatives, such as a Little Free Library placed outside the school, can be an easy way to offer access to reading material over the summer.
What are your favorite ways to keep your students reading over the summer?