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Unfortunately for many students, summer reading often sounds boring. Similarly, for many parents, it can sound like a distant dream—something they wish they had time for but believe they no longer do. The truth, though, is simply that we’ve stopped trying to teach our kids that reading can, in fact, be fun, and that we’ve simply stopped trying to make time for reading for ourselves. Reading isn’t something that just spontaneously happens; you have to make a choice. Do I watch this TV show or pick up a book/magazine/article/newspaper? And it’s high time we started thinking more about just these kinds of everyday choices and opportunities, because it’s you and your example that your kids will look to in order to learn what relaxation, fun, and learning can look like.
Tips for making Summer Reading happen:
• Set aside blocks of time each day for reading, such as a half hour in the morning with breakfast and a half hour at night before bed, and turn off all electronics during this time to reinforce the effort (yes, that means cellphones too).
• Pick out a variety of reading materials to choose from and have handy for each month—try a new novel, a new book of short stories, of poetry, and try a new magazine (Orion, The New Yorker, Harper’s—all of these and many like them are filled with long-form journalism, short fiction, book reviews, and often poetry as well). Having a variety of materials available in different genres and styles will help you to keep moving in case you find yourself bored or dissatisfied with your initial reading choice.
• Make sure that you set aside some reading times where you can be surrounded by other readers. This can often help motivate everyone involved to keep reading past any initial feelings of itchiness or wanting to give up. This also gives everyone an opportunity to share and discuss what they’re reading with each other. Discussing works as you read them can both help you to better retain the information you read as well as help make reading more fun and meaningful for all.
•If you pick up a novel, establish a set number of pages you must read before deciding to continue or give up on the text. After all, sometimes it takes a chapter or two before the plot and characters have a chance to whisk you away. (I’d recommend making 75-100 pages as your benchmark.)
• Challenge yourself and your reading friends (whether they be friends or family) to step outside of comfort zones—try reading things that seem “too hard”; try exploring a new genre; try an author you’ve never heard of; try reading from a female author if you typically read books by male authors (and vice versa); and so forth
• Set up a Book Club with your friends and use it as a means of not only upping your game as a reader but also as a friend, educator, and host
• Get out and read somewhere unexpected! Reading doesn’t just have to be a home-bound activity. Go out and read in a coffee shop, library, restaurant, or park area. If you have a front stoop or porch, read out there and wave to your neighbors as they stroll by. If you haven’t been out on a date with your loved one in a while, why not propose a reading date to your favorite local hang-out or bar? Just you, your partner, a couple of books, desserts, coffee, and a lot of fascinating, engaged discussion–sounds like summertime to me!
Reading isn’t something to be afraid of, intimidated by, or to feel guilty about. Reading is a way to exercise your mind, give yourself a break, and reconnect with friends, family, self, and the world.
Around April and May, people often start talking about summer “brain drain” and learning loss, losses that can be as great as—at least the popular measure tends to be—2 to 3 months of school-learning. However, this isn’t something that students are powerless to prevent, change, or reverse. We’ve all experienced it for ourselves before, whether there was that one summer that seemed to simply disappear without ever having existed at all or that summer where mishap after mishap seemed to just keep tugging away at our every best intention to read, learn a new language, and so forth and so forth.
For many, summer “brain drain” can also be exacerbated by tough financial and domestic circumstances. According to some recent research conducted by Johns Hopkins sociology Professor Karl Alexander, losses in academic achievement due to a lack of summer learning “often breaks down along social lines.” More specifically, this “summer learning loss accounts for about two-thirds of the difference in likelihood of pursuing a college preparatory path in high school.”
But summer learning loss doesn’t only impact students—it also carries consequences for their teachers and their peers. Regardless of what many teachers try to do during the April/May school months, they’ll often find themselves wasting time in August/September re-teaching students all of the things they’ve forgotten during the summer months.
According to a survey of 500 teachers conducted by the National Summer Learning Association, “when kids enter the classroom months behind in learning each fall, teachers are forced to waste time backtracking. Sixty-six percent of teachers polled reported that it takes them at least three to four weeks to re-teach the previous years’ skills at the beginning of a new school year,” and as much as “24 percent said it takes them 5 weeks or more.” (Go here to read the full press release.)
No matter the reasons or a person’s circumstances, however, the infamous summer “brain drain” can often be prevented or reversed with the adoption of a few proactive (and often cost-free) habits and actions.
Here are just a few ideas to get you started:
- Meet with your children’s teachers to discuss ideas and options with them regarding how to help prevent summer learning loss
- Have a formal sit-down with your family to brainstorm ideas on fun ways to keep active and learning throughout the summer
o Try taking your kids and some friends to your local library; demystify the library’s resources for them and show them just how useful and fun a library can be—providing not only books (which are awesome!) but also events, student extracurricular groups and activities, computer resources, textbook resources, and DVDs
o Try serving as an example for your kids by reading in front of them and to them regularly (this can be supported by local libraries, but you can also show your kids that it’s not just novels that are important—you can improve your reading comprehension skills by also reading magazines, newspapers, and other publications (whether online or in print))
o If you have the time and resources, try also planning an educational vacation together, such as to meet and learn about new peoples and cultures (like the Amish in Pennsylvania or the Gullah in the Carolinas)
o If you have the time and resources, try visiting new museums, zoos, and aquariums, and then see who learned or can remember the most new facts by the end of the visit (maybe the winner gets to decide what the next family outing will be?)
- What’s more, if you have the time and resources, investigate local options regarding summer learning, tutoring, and camp programs—many often have substantial price tags, but there are also those that run on scholarship programs (especially school-run summer camps; many of these have special options for students who require financial support in order to participate). Bear in mind, however, that while athletic camps are important and valuable, they are not the same as engaging in regular academic/educational activities such as reading
o Some Texas Options:
- Tutoring 101 Summer Academy
- St. Mark’s School of Texas Summer Camps (everything from Sports to the Sciences!)
- Allen High School, Allen, TX Sports Camps
- City of Allen, Parks & Rec Summer Activities
- Lovejoy Summer Programs: Young Kids & Athletic Camps
- McKinney, TX Summer Camps & Programming
- YMCA Summer Camps & Youth Activities
- Summer Youth Program at SMU-in-Plano
- Organize a variety of meetings and opportunities for discussion with both students and parents (perhaps together and separately) wherein you brainstorm and provide ideas regarding summer learning and preparation
- Prepare your students for the year ahead by teaming up with their future teachers to create summer reading lists and assignments aimed at keeping students engaged while giving them a leg up for the year ahead
- Engage yourself in summer camps and learning programs that you can then advertise and help make more available to your current and future students
- Advocate at your own school for more summer programming opportunities
- Talk with your parents, friends, and teachers about what groups, activities, camps, and tutoring you might be able to engage in for the upcoming summer
- Think about what skills you most want to work on and develop for yourself over the summer (Art? Sports? Science? Spanish?)
- Start your own group activity such as a Writing or Poetry Group, Book Club, Math Club, Art Club, etc.
- Visit your local library often and set reading goals for yourself—try to find at least two new books (that you love!) per month
- Try emailing or meeting with your teachers for the upcoming year and discussing with them what you might be able to do to keep on track and prepared for their coursework
- Tracy Grant, “The cure for summer brain drain,” The Washington Post
- Philip Elliott, “Summertime brain drain? Not for these kids, teachers,” The Seattle Times — Learn more about what some schools and teachers are doing during the summer to keep kids on-course for the coming school year while exploring new and innovative lesson plans and teaching tools
- Anna Babin, “Smarter Summers: Keeping Kids Engaged During Crucial Summer Months,” The Huffington Post — Babin briefly discusses some of the issues related to summer learning loss and provides interesting tips on how to combat it
- National Summer Learning Association, “Research in Brief: Summer Can Set Kids on the Right – or Wrong – Path; Interview with Dr. Karl Alexander” — Learn more here regarding the achievement gap in education and how summer learning can change and reverse the negative effects of this gap