KIDS
August 8, 2010

Take Your Pick, Kids

Let your grade-schoolers read whatever they want during the summer. Keeping those skills sharp is what is important.

Children who don't read during the summer fall behind when school starts in the fall. Two University of Tennessee researchers have found a simple, inexpensive solution to this problem: give children books to read during the summer. Better yet, let the children choose their own books.

This may sound obvious, but it's not done very often.

According to the researchers, children who don't read during the summer lose two to three months of reading development, while those who do read gain a month of development.

Just like athletes lose their timing during the off-season, children who don't read during the summer lose some of their reading skills. According to the researchers, children who don't read during the summer lose two to three months of reading development, while those who do read gain a month of development. This creates a reading gap, where children who don't read during the summer fall a full year behind their peers with every three or four years that pass.

Some children only get to read while school is in session. This can be because of the expense of buying books, a family that places little emphasis on reading or other social reasons.

The Tennessee three-year study found that giving these children books to read in the summer was just as effective, if not more so, as going to summer school would be for these children. And it only cost $40-50 a year per child.

This study differed in design from previous studies in three important ways. First, the study lasted three years, from 2001-2004, while most earlier studies only ran for a single year. This study ran for three years because previous research had indicated that a single summer school session was not enough to boost a child's reading achievement.

Second, while earlier studies had given children specific books to read, this one let the children choose their own books. Pop culture books were the children's favorite genre. While this might concern some adults, it shouldn't. A book doesn't do a child any good if it sits on a shelf, gathering dust. And a survey of the best seller list shows that adults aren't exactly lining up to read Euclid, either.

The third difference was that this study began when the children were in first and second grade, before any reading gap could have much time to develop. Most previous studies had been on third to sixth graders.

All of these differences helped increase the effectiveness of summer reading.

The researchers suggest that schools could help out by keeping libraries open during the summer, making sure that their libraries have books that students enjoy reading, such as books on pop culture and on local animals and their habitats, and by sending books home with the students at the end of the school session in late spring or early summer.

And if the schools don't help out, it's up to the families to do so.

An article detailing the study will be published in an upcoming issue of the journal Reading Psychology.

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