Summer Reading Programs Foster Lifelong Readers

1 comment Posted on June 29, 2012

by Judy Gann

As a child, my favorite summer activity was to hop on my bicycle and ride to the local library to participate in the annual summer reading program. I’d check out as many books as my wire bike basket would hold, return home, and find a shady spot to read. A week later I’d be back at the library with my reading chart entries completed, ready to begin anew with another basket of books.

Now I view summer reading programs from the other side of the librarian’s desk. I love to see a line of children snake around the desk, clamoring to register for the summer reading program. Kids rush into the library eager for a “good” book to read on a hot, lazy summer day. Children and teens collect stickers and other rewards as well as participate in a variety of activities to foster reading during the summer months.

These scenarios are playing out in bookstores and libraries throughout the United States this summer. I know from experience the hours of creativity and hard work that goes into planning a quality summer reading program. So, why all the effort? After all isn’t it vacation—a break from anything that hints of school?

Avoiding the Summer Slide
For over thirty years, studies have shown the correlation between reading during the summer and success in school. In 2010, researchers at the University of Tennessee completed a three year study to evaluate the impact of summer reading programs and the reality of the summer slide in reading ability.

Their study revealed that children who don’t read during the summer lose two to three months of reading development. Educators and librarians call this the “summer slide.” Those who read, gain a month. This might not seem like a great deal of difference, but the loss is cumulative. Over two or three years children who don’t read during the summer fall a year behind children who do read. Reading is like any skill: use it or lose it.

Summer reading programs also contribute to the development of a lifelong habit of reading. Reading becomes much more than something you do at school. In addition, reading programs provide opportunities for families to participate in an activity together. Adults, you aren’t left out! An increasing number of libraries and bookstores run summer reading programs especially for you. Last, but not least, summer reading programs are fun!

Tips for Motivating Children to Read
Once you’ve registered your children for the program, you may wonder how you motivate them to read—especially reluctant readers or those for whom reading is more difficult? What about preschoolers who haven’t yet learned to read?

Here are some tips to foster the reading habit through summer reading:
· Include younger children. Most summer reading programs allow preschoolers to participate and count books that are read to them.

· Make reading a part of daily family life. Do your children see you read? It’s also important to continue to read aloud to school age children. Select books above their reading level. Encourage an older child to read to younger siblings.

· Help your child choose age-appropriate books. Nothing’s more discouraging than trying to read a book that’s too difficult.

· Guide your children in their reading choices. Yet also allow them some freedom to select their own reading material within your guidelines.

· If your child is a reluctant reader, try a non-fiction book. Does your child have some special interests? Is she curious about a specific subject? A well-chosen non-fiction book may be the key to triggering an interest in reading.

· Ask librarians and bookstore staff for book recommendations and booklists.

· Encourage your child to spend time doing book related activities. Libraries and bookstores offer a wealth of storytime programs, book clubs, and author events.

Join a Summer Reading Program at Your Local Christian Bookstore
Many independent Christian retailers are running summer reading programs in their bookstores to encourage children to read. Children complete special bookmarks by reading age-appropriate titles from a selected list. Preschoolers may count books read to them. Those who finish their bookmarks will be rewarded with a coupon for 50% off any book in the store.  All bookmarks must be completed by July 29, 2012.

Your local bookstore may sponsor special events as part of the summer reading program. These include storytimes for younger children and book clubs for tweens and teens. Check with your local retailer for a list of events.

“Hey, Do You Have Another Book Like This One?”
One of the joys of my role as a children’s librarian is to hear summer reading success stories. Parents come into the library in late September and tell me their child is off to a great school year. Reading is no longer a belabored task, but has finally “clicked” with their child. Children, who never entered the library before the start of summer reading, come in and ask for the next book in a newly discovered series.

As parents, your role isn’t so much to teach your child how to read (unless homeschooling), but to want to read—to encourage him to view reading as an enjoyable activity and foster a love for books that will endure for a lifetime. Summer reading programs provide the structure to make your task easier.

So, have you and your children signed up for a local summer reading program? If not, register today. Then grab a stack of books, gather your family around you, and have fun!

Additional research findings and suggestions for encouraging reading over the summer are available on the National Summer Learning Association website.

A children’s librarian for over twenty-five years, Judy Gann also worked as an early literacy librarian. She presents workshops on selecting and sharing books with children to MOPS groups, parenting classes, and educators. She is the author of The God of All Comfort: Devotions of Hope for Those Who Chronically Suffer (AMG Publishers). Judy’s website is


  • 07/09/2012
    Judy Nelson said:

    thanks for spelling out so clearly why summer reading is so special and so important


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