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Our Blog: July 18, 2011

Making Summer Reading Fun

Think back to your favorite summer experiences as a young child. My grown children would probably tell you about camp, the beach and family vacations. It’s not likely that they, or you, would put summer reading high their list of special summer memories. And yet, one of the most important things we can do for our children during the summer is to make sure they continue their experiences with good books.  This is especially true in light of the new Common Core Standards for Kindergarten through 12th grade English Language Arts that have already been adopted by 45 states this year.  State leaders in education, working with national literacy experts, developed world-class standards that can be used by every state to improve the academic achievement of all children. These standards incorporate two major trends you can use this summer to help prepare your young children to meet and exceed the new expectations to be introduced in kindergarten this fall.

First, there is an added emphasis on children deeply understanding the books that they read or are read to them.  It is no longer enough to remember whether it was the biggest or smallest goat that crossed the bridge first in The Three Billy Goats Gruff. Elementary-aged children will now be expected to understand why the troll chose the underside of the bridge as his hiding place. We know one of the best ways for children to develop this deeper comprehension is for them to be able to make connections between what happens in their own lives and in the books that they read.

Second, nonfiction informational reading takes on greatly increased importance in the new standards.  While good stories still make wonderful reading material, experts agree that to be successful throughout life students will need to more easily gain and use information from textbooks, instruction manuals, product websites and the like. Surveys show that up to 85 percent of boys and men actually prefer reading nonfiction or information books rather than stories. But since moms and female teachers often select the books read to young children, less than 10 percent of what children actually hear is informational.

The good news is that you can easily use your family’s special summer experiences to put your children on a path to successfully meet the new reading standards. Try some of these ideas at home this summer.

  • Read your children stories and informational books about the kinds of activities they will be enjoying during the summer.  Choose The Relatives Came by Cynthia Rylant if you will be attending a family reunion or Barnyard Banter by Denise Fleming if you’re planning a visit to a farm.  The children’s librarian at your local library will be a great help in finding just the right book to match your plans.  Read the books both before and after your experiences and help your children think and talk about what was the same and what was different in the book and in their real-life adventures.
  • Write your own books about things you’ve done this summer. A wide variety of experiences from making fresh lemonade, to growing a vegetable garden, or taking a camping trip can all become the subject of your own books.  By using pictures from your digital camera as illustrations and a few lines of explanatory text suggested by your children on each page, you can easily create and print your own nonfiction books that your family will enjoy for years.
  • Encourage your elementary-aged children, or those of friends and relatives, to read to your preschoolers. Not only will your young children be enthusiastic about listening to their new reading buddies, but the older children will get much needed practice of their own reading skills. An added bonus is that preschoolers will realize it is not only adults who can read and, that in just a few years, they will be readers too.
  • Don’t forget to help your children retain the important early reading skills they have been learning in preschool. Help them find some letters in their name on the cereal box at breakfast or on a sign you come across in the park. Or use rhyme to tell them that the next animal they see at the zoo will be a zion or a bion and see if they can figure out that it will really be a lion.

While your children’s summer memories will still likely focus on the special family experiences you share, incorporating reading into these activities is an easy and effective way to keep children on the path toward school success.

About the Author

Joan Lessen-Firestone, Ph.D.

Dr. Firestone is a leading educational expert on brain development, early care and education and emerging literacy. A past president of the Michigan Early Childhood Education Consortium and the Michigan Association for the Education of Young Children and a recent Governing Board member of the National Association for the Education of Young Children, Dr. Firestone has written and spoken extensively on the development and education of young children and their families.