MCSD Whiteboard: Defeat the ‘Summer Slide’ by encouraging summer reading
Summer is a magical time for kids.
It’s hard not to get nostalgic remembering those freewheeling days of summer of our youths, full of fun and adventure.
But the end of August comes every year like clockwork, and, with it, the beginning of a brand new school year. Unfortunately, for many kids, that return to school can be extremely challenging, in part because of something educators refer to as the “Summer Slide.”
The Summer Slide describes a startlingly dramatic dip in scholastic skills that researchers have observed over generations in children. It’s not hard to make sense of it. Kids spend all fall, winter and spring practicing these skills every day, then, often, go into the summer and leave off that practice for months.
“Because they’re not practicing, they can lose between 20% and 80% of what they learned the previous year,” said Tilila Gunderson, who was the literacy coordinator and reading interventionist at Sunset Elementary last year, and who will be a special education teacher there this coming fall. “It depends on the kid, where they’re at, how strong they are with the skills. But Summer Slide is a real thing.”
Reading skills may not suffer any more or less than other skills, but a loss in literacy skills affects everything else a child does at school.
“Look at math,” said Erika Miller, instructional coach at Ridgeview Elementary. “If you’re solving real-world problems, you can’t solve those if you can’t read. Reading is just foundational for all subjects. It’s the bottom line.”
That’s why MCSD educators say summer reading is so important.
“Research has shown that if you can read a minimum of three books over the summer, it can slow that Summer Slide down practically by half,” Gunderson said. “Just three. I think of reading like it’s a sport. If you think of football, those players lift weights in the offseason, they run, they work on skills. That’s like summer for kids in school. If they’re not lifting, working those muscles, exercising their reading skills, they’re going to come back to school behind. To do that, they need to read.”
Different age levels and skill levels need different baselines. MCSD educators recommend making sure kids are reading anywhere between four and five days a week at the very least, and for 15-20 minutes a day, though of course the more the better.
For younger kids who aren’t reading as much on their own yet, being read to is similarly powerful to help strengthen and maintain skills from the previous school year.
“Studies show that words coming out of a device aren’t the same,” Gunderson said. “They need to see your mouth, hear the intonation, reply back. If you’re reading to them, try to do it every day.”
For students who might not be as strong or confident with their reading skills to start with, this concept of summer maintenance is even more important.
“Those midrange to lower readers, we see a big drop in skills at the start of a new school year,” said Candace Hellander, literacy coordinator at Ridgeview. “Unless they’ve done something to maintain with summer reading, whether that’s summer school or working with a parent or tutor during the summer, they usually have not kept up those skills.”
Miller said the Slide can have a huge impact on the first few months of school.
“There’s a handful of kids who can get back quicker, but for a kiddo who’s already maybe a little behind, we’re talking four to six weeks to get them back to where they were at the end of the school year if they haven’t been reading,” Miller said.
Educators stress that summer reading, as much or more than during the school year, needs to be something a child can embrace and get excited about.
“Summer is a good time to choose books that follow a kid’s interests more, not necessarily just something a teacher picks,” Hellander said. “It’s more self-selected. A good idea for parents is to get your kids to choose something they’re interested in to help maintain those reading skills and make sure it’s helping them gain confidence and increase their knowledge base. Read across curriculum.”
Gunderson said to get creative.
“If your kid struggles with reading or doesn’t like it, find something they like,” she said. “I’ve had boys come through my library who hate reading, but then I give them ‘Diary of a Wimpy Kid,’ or these new graphic novels. My grandma called them funny books. Even just comic books. The newspaper. When I was a kid we loved reading the comics page in the paper. Whatever they’ll read, get them to read it. If that means turning the sound off on a show they’re watching and putting the captions on, do it. Get them reading, whatever you’ve gotta do.”
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