By Caren Chaffee
Summer signals warmer temperatures, more sunshine and time spent at the beach or pool. For many children, it also means summer vacation and a welcome break from school. However, a break from school should not signify a subsequent break from reading. Reading is a crucial skill that can be further honed during the summer months, when children may have some extra “free” time.
Studies repeatedly demonstrate that poor reading skills lead to poor outcomes:
- Students who are not proficient readers by third grade are four times more likely to leave school without a diploma (The Annie E. Casey Foundation).
- Students reading below their grade level are twice as likely to drop out of school as those who can read at or above grade level (Adolescent Literacy: A National Reading Crisis).
- Among adults at the lowest level of literacy proficiency, 43 percent live in poverty. Among adults with strong literacy skills, only 4 percent live in poverty (First Book).
- More than one third of all juvenile offenders read below a fourth-grade reading level (Adolescent Literacy: A National Reading Crisis).
- 82 percent of prison inmates are high school dropouts (The Coalition for Juvenile Justice), and a very high proportion of them cannot read (Adolescent Literacy: A National Reading Crisis).
There are several populations who are at greater risk to struggle with literacy skills. Specifically, studies indicate that economic circumstances play a role in reading proficiency. In fact, only 16 percent of students eligible for free or reduced lunch programs (based on household income) are proficient in reading. In comparison, 42 percent of students who are not eligible for a free or reduced lunch read at proficient levels (NAEP Reading 2009). In addition, reports from all 50 states indicate that boys are less proficient readers than girls. In some states, the gap is as large as 10 percentage points (Center for Education Policy).
There are many ways to help youth become more skilled readers. The key is increasing their exposure to reading materials and opportunities to read:
- Libraries are a primary source of reading materials, which can be borrowed free of charge.
- It is important for youth to witness adults reading. High-frequency reading parents are six times more likely to have high- frequency reading children (2008 Kids & Family Reading Report).
- Bookstores often hold age-appropriate reading programs or book club meetings.
- Many restaurants and bookstores offer summertime incentive programs for youth and reward their reading activities with free books or meals.
- A weekly “theme” can act as a springboard for new reading materials and topics. Not only can meals and activities be based on the selected theme, but youth can be encouraged to read books related to the theme.
- Fun everyday activities can quickly and easily be turned into opportunities to read:
- Museums, zoos and local parks often have signage that youth can read aloud.
- News stories on the internet provide daily opportunities for youth to learn about current events that are of interest to them.
- Shopping with children gives them the opportunity to read a shopping list and find the corresponding items on the shelves.
- Cooking or baking is not only a good chance for children and caregivers to spend time together, but it provides the added benefit of reading a recipe.
- Road trips give youth exposure to different billboards, which they can read aloud.
By making reading more accessible and more fun for youth, caregivers and other adults can play an important role in improving children’s level of reading proficiency. These acts, while seemingly small and simple, have the power to offer life-changing and life-long benefits.
Image credit: iStock photo/colematt