“Reading should not be presented to children as a chore or duty. It should be offered to them as a precious gift.”
— Kate DiCamillo
Ahhh…. stretched out in a hammock under a tree, reading at a leisurely pace, my book chosen from the pile of “books-to-read-when-I-have-time,” and the summer shade providing a space for the precious gift of reading.
When I think about summer reading as an adult, I picture myself with sustained, uninterrupted time, maybe laying in that hammock, and reading whatever I want. As a young child, I fondly recall weekly excursions throughout the summer to our local library, air-conditioned and friendly, with a helpful librarian there to suggest a book or two to me at each visit. These were the summers when I first devoured the Nancy Drew series, and met the silly and adventurous Pippi Longstocking.
None of these delightful summer reading memories consisted of required assignments or a mandated book. We read because we could! But it was the reading during those summers that drove my joy of reading. Reading provided the opportunity to escape, to wonder, to solve problems, to explore other worlds, to discover language, and to establish a habit of reading. The books I chose as a child were sometimes too easy, sometimes too confusing, but eventually I found my “just right” books.
The “Summer Slide”
Though it may seem obvious, when we stop practicing or engaging in something, we lose the skill or fluency. Whether it is riding a bicycle, playing an instrument, or reading, we have to work harder to refresh and relearn after a break. Often referred to as “the summer slide,” hundreds of studies have been conducted to research what happens when we don’t read for an extended time such as during the summer when school is not in session. But what also came out of these studies is that reading of any kind can deflect this decline in reading skills. If your child has choice, is engaged and interested, comprehension and vocabulary are improved. The key is in choice.
The very idea of a “required” reading list can be a turn off to many kids.
Realize that most teachers have good intentions, and want students to avoid the summer slide, the potential decline in reading skills. They usually have a theme or lesson in mind and a goal to start the school year with a shared reading experience. A well-researched and preferred approach that I adopted several years ago is to provide students with a list of books from which to choose. Books that are engaging, books with characters and settings that students will enjoy, books that we can’t put down, books that make us laugh and cry, books that take us to familiar spaces and places, books that invite us to meet characters that are just like us . . . or not like us at all!
Not only am I the Director of the Gerald and Betty Ford Library at Bosque School, but I have been a reading teacher, language arts teacher, English teacher, humanities and science teacher–a teacher of many disciplines for over 30 years. I also come to this topic as a parent, and now a grandparent! The notion of summer reading–from multiple perspectives–has been with me for most of my life. The good news is that the quality of children’s books has never been better. By giving our kids choice and opportunity, we give them the chance to see themselves in stories, to hear the voices of those who at first seem very unlike themselves, to experience compassion and empathy, to expand their imaginations along with their vocabulary, to savor language and story, to engage with text without deadlines and homework assignments.
A few ways to encourage and support this important literary opportunity might include some activities:
- Build a reading fort–inside or outside; reading nooks are cozy.
- Read a book together–even if your child is an independent reader. By reading the same book, you can engage in conversation. Charlotte’s Web by EB White is a timeless classic. A delightful companion book is Caldecott Honor Winner Some Writer! The Story of E.B. White by Melissa Sweet.
- Cook a meal like one your character cooks–see Pablo Cartaya’s The Epic Fail of Arturo Zamora for some recipes at the end of the book!
- Going on a family trip? Find a book that takes place where you are going! David Barclay Moore’s The Stars Beneath My Feet is grounded with a sense of place in Harlem, NY.
- Visit the story times and activities at our local public library. The Albuquerque Public Library has superb summer programming.
- Audiobooks aren’t cheating! Echo by Pam Munoz Ryan is a stunning audiobook, with compelling readers and music as an integral part of the story.
This summer, enjoy the gift of reading, the gift of time and opportunity that summer allows, and the gift of shared literacy with your family.
About Our Guest Blogger:
Barbara Lazar has been a Bosque Bobcat faculty member since 2008. She brings her passion and expertise in reading and young adult literature, learning, inquiry, and community into the Gerald and Betty Ford Library as the Director of the Library and Information Specialist. She values the development of the community as she supports teachers and student learning. “As the school’s Library and Information Specialist, I encourage students to ask questions, think critically, share knowledge, and practice effective and ethical use of information in a global society.” Her core beliefs also include connecting readers with texts that delight, inspire, entertain, and inform.
With an undergraduate degree from Illinois State University and a master’s degree from the University of New Mexico in Curriculum and Instruction, she has spent most of her adult life teaching English, social studies, and science, as well as working in the UNM teacher education program and as an instructional coach. Her experience includes taking students on tours of Washington, D.C., New York City, and Boston, as well as traveling in Central America (as a training director for Amigos de la Americas), South America, and Europe. As a member of the Teacher Advisory Board of the National Energy Education Development (NEED) project, she is a regular contributor to NEED’s newsletters, is active in working with both students and adults in learning more about energy and energy conservation, and is the recipient of the Bob Thompson Excellence in Energy Education Award. Barbara and her husband are the parents of three daughters, two of whom are teachers, and one who is pursuing a postgraduate degree in physical therapy.
“I walk past a stretch of so many dandelions, many the heads of which are gone. So many wishes out there in the wind.” -Anis Mohjgani (two time National Poetry Slam Champion and winner of the International World Cup Poetry Slam)
“Seedfolks” by Paul Fleischman. This is one book that inspires me because in its simplicity lies a glimpse of hope for a community and a place, of people and perspectives, and a compelling message of redemption and inspiration for a neighborhood and our world.