Keep kids reading

How to avoid summer brain drain


When 9-year-old Carolyn Barnett reads aloud, her audience is usually Prince, her dog. Hopefully, she’ll be reading her action, adventure and comic books to him this summer, because it is even more important to be reading when school is out—no matter who is listening. 

Reading during the summer encourages a lifelong love of books. It also helps keep kids from forgetting a year’s worth of learning, experts say, which means parents should do all they can to keep their kids turning those pages.

“Students who don’t read over the summer, they lose ground,” says Melva Bryant-Samuels, a Chicago Public Schools area librarian who publishes a summer reading list for students. “When I was in the classroom, the students that did any kind of reading over the summer tended to be more vocal and willing to read aloud and explore.”

Studies from the School Library Journal and America Reads agree: Kids who keep reading over the summer do better on standardized tests and are more likely to read at or above grade level, according to Bryant-Samuels.

But how do you keep your kids devouring books—especially when they aren’t assigned?

Here are some tips from local reading experts:

n Let them read what they want. The classics will come. “If they want to read Captain Underpants, they’re still reading,” says Cathy Maassen of the Skokie Public Library. As Bryant-Samuels points out, reading is highly structured during the school year. Kids need to see reading is fun, too. So this summer, let the kids loose in the library.

n Read a book aloud. They’re never too old for this. “It’s such a close act and it brings a family together,” says Elizabeth McChesney of the Chicago Public Library. It’s also a way to get slow readers involved and to show your enthusiasm for books. If you’re going hoarse, try audio books, which often have special sound effects and skilled narrators. Those are also great in the car for a long trip. Check your library’s audio book section.

n Use the library. At the Oak Park Public Library, little kids read to their “Book Buddies” over the summer. “The little ones come in and they just idolize the older ones because it’s so much fun to see a big kid,” says librarian Heather McCammond-Watts. Joining a summer reading program is another option—it gives kids a goal and often a reward, since many libraries give out T-shirts and other prizes.

n Get the family involved. Talk about the books you read or take 10 to 15 minutes each day to read together, says Kate Mannix of the Park Ridge Public Library. “If you make it casual and part of your everyday routine, like brushing your teeth or going to the park, then the kids will enjoy it.”

For summer book suggestions, visit Bryant-Samuels’ Web site, aboutcps/departments/libraries/students.html. Diana Oleszczuk


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