Getting a read on the summer


Families can create their own reading incentive program


Most kids start summer vacation with a long list of plans--swimming, hiking, biking, camping, exploring, playing until the sun goes down. Educators say reading should rank high on that list. Daily reading throughout the summer months can minimize summer learning loss and even advance a child's reading skills. So how can you create the right mix of leisure and learning, reading and recreation?

Gail Shapiro, a children's librarian at Naperville's Naper Boulevard Library, says she recommends the summer reading programs offered by most public libraries. Through these programs, children log hours of reading and receive prizes as they meet their reading goals. And, she says, parents need to be good reading models since research shows that when parents read, kids do, too. Recognizing that, some libraries have created young adult and adult summer reading programs as well.

But parents don't need a community program to encourage reading. They can create their own family program that awards prizes for each family member's reading time as well as the entire family's total time. Incentives could include family nights out for ice cream, gift certificates to a local bookstore or movie nights spent watching a video based on a just-completed book. Families can decide upon "family reading times," create comfortable outdoor reading nooks and stock up on reading materials early in the summer so they are available when needed.

Shapiro also recommends a reading buddies program that pairs younger and older children to share one hour of reading time a week. It can be a formal program operated through the public library or an informal one that pairs two neighborhood children or two siblings, or a parent and child.

Reading experts also tout the advantage of reading aloud even after the children are fully capable of reading on their own. The practice allows bonding, strengthens listening skills and primes a child's interest in more difficult books.

Donna Plocharczyk, a third-grade teacher at St. Alexander's school in Palos Heights, says parents should focus on "learning about the world" with their children during summer break. "Summer is about fun, enjoying being a kid and learning life skills." Combine interests, outings or vacations with reading.

Donna Wandke, a mother of three boys and a high school math teacher, recommends getting children to help plan a vacation by reading through travel books and looking at maps.

"Don't forget about nonfiction books," she advises. Kids often find reading informative books painless when they focus on an interest that may be too time-consuming to address during the school year.

Parents should spend time at the beginning of the summer learning about each child's interests and exploring local libraries or book stores together. Many libraries allow extended borrowing times and have an excellent assortment of books on tape for families that want to borrow books for vacations.

Many library's Web pages, as well as other reading Web sites, offer book lists to make choosing appropriate books even easier. One Web site,, offers monthly reading calendars to help parents incorporate reading into each day.



-- Sharon Thompson

Kids Eat Chicago

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