Inspire, Engage or Intervene? It Depends on Your Child.
The steps to reading proficiency are many and occur over several years. Parents play two key roles in helping their children navigate these steps: (1) maintaining momentum year in year out, and (2) ensuring a positive connection to reading. Without a love of reading the path to reading proficiency is long and troubled, and so above all else parents should be careful not to press too hard or create stress around reading.
This juggling act (making progress but avoiding negativity around reading) is especially tricky over summer. A lot of children fall victim to the so-called “summer slide” where a lack of reading leads to a loss of momentum. It is also a time for a lot of family squabbles about reading, when the alternatives are infinitely more appealing.
Summer Reading Strategies — Horses For Courses
Summer reading strategies for parents depend mainly on your child’s status as a reader. Here are 3 broad categories:
1. Loves or likes reading. This is about 50% of children according to a recent Scholastic Report.
2. Reluctant, but progressing. These children are getting there, but have a troubled relationship to reading possibly due to the humiliation from having to read out loud, frustration with texts that are too hard or from knowing their reading disappoints their teachers and parents. This is about 20% of children.
3. Struggling. This last 30% dislike reading. They have not mastered the reading fundamentals, mainly decoding. For them reading is a chore or worse, torture, whereas as for good readers it’s effortless and automatic.
Parents should think carefully about which category their child belongs to as each requires a different summer reading strategy. If you are at all unsure about your child’s reading skill ask your child’s teacher. And then be proactive.
Maintaining momentum and a positive reading connection is a challenge, no question, but it is not impossible. Here are some thoughts to consider.
Enthusiastic Readers — Inspire By Expanding Reading Horizons
For good readers, progress up the reading steps in summer is about finding the time or motivation to read given all the competing activities. One answer is to join a summer reading challenge with your local library or school. This gives reading a higher profile in your child’s summer activities and associates it with fun through winning and prizes.
A great example of a reading competition that motivates children nationwide is the Scholastic Summer Reading Challenge. This free online reading program for kids K-8 offers an opportunity for schools that read the most minutes to win a visit from a famous author.
Summer is also an opportunity to open new reading windows for your child or to inspire him with out-of-the-ordinary texts while he has more time to really get into reading. One interesting idea is online newspapers written for kids. Your confident reader is most likely a learning risk-taker — if the material is too hard, he won’t stress about it, he will simply move to another book.
Reluctant Readers – Engage With Just Right Books
If your child is a reluctant reader, but has reasonable reading skills and is making steady progress, then the most important goal of the summer should be to improve his relationship with reading.
You should choose his books, and choose them carefully. Find books in his reading sweet spot, called the zone of proximal development (ZPD), where the book is challenging and interesting without being too hard, but also not too easy and boring.
The path to reach ultimate reading proficiency is similar to climbing a set of stairs. Each book you select is a step on the path, gradually escalating in difficulty over the course of years, with no step too high so as to block your child’s progress. Also, you don’t want to have any steps be too far down or too long a period where the steps are flat with no reading progress is being made.
For able but reluctant readers, selecting just-right books is critical. The good news is that there are plenty of online resources. Our favorite is Accelerated Reader’s Book Finder where you can check the reading difficulty of 185,000 books. Once you know your child’s reading level (expressed in grades and months, e.g., an at grade-level 3rd grade reader would have a current reading level of 3rd grade, 8th month) choose books that are around his level. For elementary age, stay no more than a year below and a year above. As children get older the upper limit of books can extend a little.
As important as building confidence through successfully reading just-right books is, so too is not introducing opportunities for setbacks. For the reluctant reader, a competition may not be a good idea. It may be seen by your child as just another way to let parents and teachers down by not measuring up or by not doing as well as everyone else.
Struggling Readers — Fix The Problem
If your child finds reading difficult, getting him to read this summer is not only going to be a challenge, it will be a source of frustration and tension for the whole family. Worse than that, your child will sense he is letting you down, again — the summer reading battles will strengthen the connections he has with reading and misery.
A better choice is to use summer to change the dynamic, to create a different relationship with reading by resolving the underlying impediments.
This can be done. Reading difficulties in most cases can be attributed to difficulties in language processing that can be exercised and improved. Once improved, reading is easier, and once reading is easier your child will put in the reading miles required and start climbing the staircase to reading proficiency.