Many of our kids look forward to summer all year: Besides the escape from the daily grind of classroom life, these warm months promise fun with camps, family trips, outdoor play and more filling our family schedules. While every summer has its fun times, we’ve all witnessed the other side of large amounts of unstructured time—bored kids (wailing “There’s nothing to do!” every few minutes) who may be losing academic ground over these school-free months. Summer reading programs are often promoted by libraries as a fun way to prevent summer learning loss and keep kids productive while school is out of session.
But if your child struggles with reading, optional reading over the summer might be the last thing he or she considers fun. And if your family experiences stress and discord over homework during the school year, it’s understandable that you might have anxiety about including academics in your child’s summer. Luckily, library summer reading programs have built-in ways to overcome these obstacles and can provide special benefits for students with learning disabilities (LD).
A Reason to ReadAlmost all public libraries offer summer reading programs for kids and teens. Although programs vary locally, they generally include ways for students to keep track of their reading, prizes and incentives for completing books, themed reading suggestions, special events and more. And these programs are offered for free—a relief for parents on a budget.
“We know that kids who don’t read over the summer lose some of the reading skills they developed over the previous school year. Summer reading programs help prevent this,” explains Alex Smith, a librarian at a New York City middle school. “This can be especially important for kids with LD and others who struggle with reading, because they can’t afford to lose any ground.”
While reading in school may be a source of anxiety and pressure for students with LD, summer reading programs are designed to help kids enjoy books and discover the joy of reading. A good summer reading program is relaxed and motivating, and unlike in many school situations, kids get to pick the books that interest them most. “Summer reading programs make reading fun…I’ve seen many kids, even reluctant readers, really enjoy reading for the first time at a library summer program, and this carries over to the school year,” Smith says.
This is exactly what happened to Ross Chapman, a 2013 Anne Ford Scholar. In the summer between fifth and sixth grade, a health issue kept Chapman from participating in sports, which typically filled his summers. He soon grew bored of watching TV, and his mother suggested going to the library. Having struggled with dyslexia since early childhood, he didn’t enjoy reading and thought his mom’s library idea wasn’t great, “But I was so bored I took her advice and went,” he says. The library proved a tremendously motivating environment, where librarians helped him move from reading Dr. Seuss books to working through Tom Clancy’s adult-level thrillers. “I finally saw the magic in reading books,” he explains.
Shh! A Librarian’s TipsExcited to get your child involved in a summer reading program, but not sure how to make it work with your child’s special needs? These tips from librarian Alex Smith will help.
Look into audio and digital book options. Audio and digital books engage readers in multisensory ways (like reading and listening at the same time and reading along while the e-book highlights each word) and can help make books accessible to people with dyslexia and others who struggle with printed material. Check out Learning Ally and Bookshare—your librarian can help you make use of these and other free resources.
Find motivating reading material. Although summer reading has an academic purpose, don’t forget that it’s meant to be fun and help kids learn the joy of reading. “Don’t worry too much about a book being challenging enough…focus on finding materials that will get your child excited to read,” Smith says. For reluctant readers, she recommends graphic novels and comic books, books with popular movie tie-ins (think Harry Potter and The Hunger Games), and instructional books that lead readers through fun projects (like art or craft books).
Talk to the librarian about your child’s needs. A librarian’s job goes far beyond shelving books and shushing patrons. Today’s librarians have a wealth of reading tips, book suggestions, and more. “We work very hard to make all of our programs inclusive for all readers,” explains Smith. “If you think that your child might struggle with a component of a reading program, most librarians are more than willing to help figure out accommodations or modifications to make the program work for your child…and we love helping even the most reluctant readers find books that work for them. You just need to ask!”
Remember that summer reading programs offer something for everyone. Across the country, librarians have come up with innovative programs that often go beyond traditional books. For example, this year, Chicago launched a STEM (Science, Engineering, Mathematics and Technology)-focused summer reading program that provides incentives to kids who read least 20 minutes per day, attend a library event, and create a design, invention, story or poem on their own. In New York State, local libraries have partnered with 4-H at Cornell University to present programs on earth science (think fossils and dinosaurs) and agriculture. Other libraries include classes in art, music and more to round out their summer offerings—be sure to ask your librarian for a calendar of summer events. This programming can help hook kids who might not otherwise be excited to read or go to a library.