Summer reading projects highlight the importance of access and family involvement

By Lesley McCullough McCallister

 Sunshine and warm temperatures mean summer break is upon us! While children may be focused on how many summer hours can be spent at the pool or playing outdoors, it is equally important to encourage them to read while they are away from the classroom.

According to Richard Allington, co-author of Summer Reading: Closing the Rich/Poor Achievement Gap, any child who fails to read during the summer will lose some reading proficiency during the break. (It is the equivalent of an athlete who stops training and loses physical skills.) Children from low-income families are particularly at risk. National research shows they  routinely lose two to three months of reading proficiency every summer, while middle-income families gain about a month, resulting in a three to four-month gap building each summer. Allington notes that the main issue seems to be access to books, not lack of ability. He cites the fact that low-income families own fewer books than middle-class children, and on average, middle-class students have ten places to buy or borrow books in their community for every one place accessible by a low-income neighborhood.

While Read Aloud West Virginia’s Book Distribution Program gives books to students in participating schools through a variety of programs throughout the year (Snuggle and Read, Kindergarten Round-up, and special family participation events), special emphasis is increasingly given to distributing reading material in the weeks leading up to the summer break. The success of a trial project, which began in one school in Greenbrier County in 2016 has led to an expansion of the project into two additional schools located in Fayette and Raleigh counties. Funding from the Carter Family Foundation and the West Virginia Leaders of Literacy: Campaign for Grade Level Reading has made this expansion possible.

According to Read Aloud West Virginia Executive Director Mary Kay Bond, the summer reading project is built on a partnership between educators, families, the State Read Aloud office and local chapters. First, Read Aloud staff and local chapter volunteers meet with school faculty to discuss the program and share the books which will be available to students: typically 120 titles representing a wide range of interests and reading levels. The faculty are encouraged to display the books in their classrooms, discuss or read short passages from various titles, and generally build excitement about reading books during the summer. Weeks later, local Read Aloud chapter volunteers return to the school as shopping helpers. Each student is invited to create a list of their top six book choices (and two alternate selections). The selected books are then prepared with personalized book plates bearing the student’s name on the inside front cover of the book. The six new books are placed in a tote bag and affixed with two tags, one with the child’s name on it, and the second with a tip sheet for families explaining all the ways they can help their child maintain or build reading skills over the summer months. Families and students are invited to a year-end celebration where the importance of summer reading and the role families play in raising enthusiastic readers is discussed. Finally, each child is called forward individually to receive the tote bag containing the book selections they requested earlier that month.

“The excitement of the children is palpable!” said Bond. “One child said it felt like Christmas.”

This simple project has yielded great results. Reading scores at Crichton Elementary, where the project is in its third year, have been raised from the lowest in the county to the highest. The principal notes staff and students are gaining valuable instructional time in the fall since they do not have to spend the early months of the school year remediating students and getting them back to their previous skill level. It is a win/win for teachers and students alike.

When creating a summer reading plan for a child, families are urged to make it fun and keep it simple. Suggestions, all of which are FREE, include the following:

1) Read to your child daily. Reading even 10 to 15 minutes a day can help them keep up their literacy skills and transition back to the school year more easily.

2) Let your child see you reading regularly on a daily basis. Habits are caught more than taught.

3) Visit the library together and enroll in a library summer reading program. Also, sign up for a free library card.

4) Let your child choose the material. Comic books, magazines or books about various subjects are all reading.

5) Limit screen time. Children need time to “unplug” from TV, video games and other electronic devices.

6) Spend time talking, singing, dancing and drawing with your child to encourage their creative side and introduce them to new words.

All of these activities are free but valuable!

The benefits of summer reading will help your child further a sense of discovery and develop positive attitudes about books, as well as maintain reading proficiency during summer break, which in turn will help your student transition back to the classroom in the fall more easily.

Lesley McCullough McCallister is a Read Aloud supporter, volunteer reader, newsletter contributor and a  freelance  journalist.




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