For most kids, summer is a welcome break from the rigors of school, homework and extra-curricular activities. The more relaxed pace of summer is a treat after months of early alarms, term papers and tests. Summer break is all too short in our area, as most kids return to school in early-to-mid August.
Even though summer should be easygoing and carefree, it’s important that parents keep kids’ minds engaged, too. Summer learning loss is a well-documented problem for kids, but keeping their brains sharp can make the transition back to school easier and more successful. Research shows that kids can lose up to three months of reading progress over the summer — and the effect is cumulative, potentially leading to problems later.
One of the simplest ways to keep young minds (and old ones, for that matter) sharp is to read, read, read. Some kids are natural readers — it delights me that one of my girls goes almost nowhere without a book in her hands — though many are reluctant to read even during the school year. But it’s always beneficial to put down the laptops, iPads, video games and remote controls and pick up a book.
One of the best ways to encourage summer reading is to simply take kids to the local library. It’s cool inside, a welcome respite from the stifling outdoor heat; that’s motivation enough to get many kids in the door. The Johnson City Public Library is teeming with resources and programs for kids of all ages.
Most children enjoy having their own library cards; any child over age three can get his or her own library card at the JCPL. (Of course, mom or dad can be in charge of keeping the card in a safe place if the child isn’t quite responsible enough for that part.) Most kids enjoy a trip to the library, where they can choose books, DVDs, music or browse the Internet on the public computers.
Perhaps the most popular program at the JCPL is the Summer Reading Program — available for kids (infants through 5th grade), teens (6th-12th grade) and adults. In each age group, registered readers track their reading hours and books, are entered in random prize drawings and attend special programs and story times. Kids who meet their summer reading goals receive awards at the end of the program. For teens, activities include book discussion groups and book talks. Adult participants are eligible for random prize drawings and can attend craft programs and tea parties. Some programs require registration, others do not, but all are entirely free. (For more information, call the library at 434-4454, or visit their website at www.jcpl.net)
Many local school libraries offer summer hours, allowing students to check out books, take accelerated reader tests and use the computers. It’s a great way to keep a child connected to his school over the summer or help him become comfortable with a new school before August. While school libraries can’t offer the wide variety of programs of the public library, they have thousands of age-appropriate books and dedicated librarians.
It’s important to make reading fun, not work, for kids. No child wants to feel he’s missing out on summer fun because he’s stuck inside reading. Kids read more and learn more when they are allowed to choose their own books — summer is a great time to explore a topic of special interest or to read about something just for fun.
Kids who love to read become adults who love to read. Sitting by the pool or in a hammock with a good book is one of life’s simplest pleasures; lazy summer days and books go hand in hand. I once had a wonderful English teacher who chose her summer reading in a unique way — each year, she’d select one author and read all of his or her books. She read many classics that way, but also found some obscure treasures in unexpected places.
However you choose to go about summer reading, it’s a valuable investment of time. Kids’ minds will stay sharp and they’ll be more prepared for school than kids who spend their days watching TV or playing video games. This summer, try to make time for a few trips to the library (or the bookstore, if your budget allows for buying new books). The best way to encourage kids to read is simply for them to see adults enjoying books.
Rebecca Horvath of Johnson City is a wife, mother and community activist.