Avoid the Summer Slide: Encouraging Reading When School’s Out

Reading is a critical part of our children’s development. Reading every day is important, and summer is no exception. Summer is perhaps even more important when many kids don’t have the structure that school provides and time set aside for reading. What can we do to mitigate some of what researchers call the “summer slide” in our kids’ reading ability? Whether your child has a voracious vocabulary or is a reluctant reader, read on for some tips to prevent the summer slide.

As long as they are reading…

Encourage reading, no matter the genre or medium. Comic books may be the starting point that holds readers’ interest and helps to gain confidence that will then carry over to other genres. Focus on fostering a love of and enjoyment in reading by seeking topics that match their interests. For example, my seven year-old is obsessed with horses. As a result, our first trips to the Iowa City Library as she learned to read included a beeline for books about horses in the children’s non-fiction stacks. I have learned everything there is to know about horses, riding, tack, horse ailments, horse breeds–you get the idea–because that is what she loved to read. I then knew to look for fiction chapter books with horses, unicorns, and fairy ponies to keep her interest.

Summer slide

Match interest with ability

Some kids are interested in reading, but their ability may not match the books generally suggested for their age. The “Hi-Lo” concept, for readers who have a high interest in reading but lower vocabulary or reading level, is a great way to address this scenario. Think of your fifth grader who reads at a third grade level but is also obsessed with basketball. Using the “Hi-Lo” concept, you could search these reading lists for books about sports that have high interest but low readability. Finding this sweet spot for your kids’ literacy development will pay off when school begins again in the fall.

Go to the Library

Knowing how to help your kids develop their reading skills can be a daunting task. After all, most of us are pretty far removed from the learning-to-read phase. Fortunately, we have great (free!) resources at our local Library. Angela Pilkington, Children’s Services Coordinator at the Iowa City Public Library, demonstrated how to navigate the library catalog based on a child’s reading level. Kids who take the Iowa Test of Basic Skills (ITBS), for example, get a Lexile score for reading ability. If you know your child’s Lexile score, you can search the library catalog online or at home using this measure.

Summer slide

If you don’t know the Lexile score, staff librarians are excited to meet your young readers to see what type of books they like to read and gauge by other books they have read and enjoyed. They may even ask them to read a short part of a book to get a better sense of reading ability. Pilkington also points parents to the Lexile Framework for Reading site and AR Book Finder for those that like to search online for book ideas.

Get with the program.

Most of the cities and towns in our area have their own story times, kids’ activities, and summer reading programs. Many of these have incentives for babies through adults, with options to sign up at the library or online. ICMB Blogger Laura raved about the Iowa City library’s program:

“I credit the ICPL’s summer reading program with my daughter really getting fluent with reading. She was so motivated to complete all three parts of it last summer that by the end, she went from slowly and carefully reading and sounding out words to cruising through books like it was no big deal. It’s amazing what a little prize and a bit of sibling rivalry will do! (She didn’t want her big brother to finish ahead of her).”

Beyond the book report.

Think of the last great book or thought-provoking article you read. What did you do immediately after? Did you link it to Facebook? Call a friend? Give your partner a detailed synopsis? Chances are, you did something to interact with the text. We need to nurture that same inclination in our kids, too. Read to your kids and then talk about it, or hang out on the patio, each with your own book, and then ask them about what they just read. As a parent of an only, I am the lucky audience when my daughter reads aloud. For those of you with more than one child, reading to younger siblings is a perfect opportunity to read books multiple times. Sibling bonding and literacy-building for the win!

How do you find page-turners for your young readers in the summer months? Share in the comments!

Note: I called on two of my reading idols for their literacy expertise. Thank you to Dr. Elizabeth Swartz (my Aunt Tam), award-winning educator and administrator and to Dr. Amanda Villagomez (aka my little sister, Mandy), an Education professor who specializes in literacy and biliteracy development.




Sherri is a transplant from Oregon who came to be a Hawkeye in 2006 and stayed for the sweet corn...and for the Iowa boy she met along the way! She and her husband (Kyle) have a 9 year-old daughter, Aissa. Sherri earned her Ph.D. in Higher Education and Student Affairs at The University of Iowa and works for Ruffalo Noel Levitz as an Enrollment Marketing Consultant for colleges and universities. When she's not working, you can find her with her family, enjoying Iowa City and cheering on the Hawkeyes.


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