Closing the Gap: It’s Not Too Early to Be Designing Summer Reading Programs

Combating the Summer Slide

It’s February, I know, and there are still four months until summer begins for students and their families. But this is the perfect time to be planning strategically to provide ways to gets kids to read books, lots of books, over the summer to combat the decline of reading growth.

kids reading outdoorsPhoto Credit  © Wavebreakmedia Ltd | Dreamstime.com

The research is clear on how critical it is for students (our kids from low income families in particular) to be reading self-selected books during the summer months. In an article for School Library Journal, Richard Allington shares a research based solution to the problem of “summer slide”.

We completed a longitudinal study of the effects of providing children from low-income families with 12 to 15 self-selected books every summer. What we found was that providing self-selected books for summer reading produced as much or more reading growth as attending summer school! For the poorest children the effect of our summer book distribution was twice as large as attending summer school.

The school district in Texas where I work as a district facilitator/coach is already working to support our students and their families to address regression of reading growth. Consider these five tips to plan a program that can help to combat the summer reading slide.

Involve Key Players in the Planning Process

Many times school librarians are completely alone when it comes to planning and promoting summer reading events. Don’t leave your librarians to single-handedly tackle the challenge.

We have a diverse group of individuals that make up our district summer reading program planning committee. Members include the Coordinator of Instructional Technology, Coordinator of Federal Programs, Public Relations and Marketing Officer, Parent Involvement Facilitator, and Language Arts Facilitator (that’s me). Together this group is planning, financing, promoting and mobilizing resources to ensure our students and their families spend the summer reading books.

Perhaps the most surprising partners in the project involve leaders from the three cities that make up our school district. They are passionately committed to the initiative. Interestingly enough, it was the mayor of one of our cities who reached out to our superintendent wanting to know how civic leaders could join in the fight to end the summer slide. Several of our committee members meet again this week with the staff members from all three city libraries to plan strategically for our summer reading program.

Design Events to Sustain Support for Parents and Students

We understand that it’s not just enough to inform parents and students about the danger of regression over the summer. Our commitment is to inform and to support.

The plan for our Summer Reading program begins with a “launch” party. We are inviting a well-known local celebrity who is also an author and reading advocate to speak to our students and parents at the weekend event. The community party will include information booths (lots of reading support info/activities), book giveaways, food trucks, bounce houses, and music. Families will leave with resources and the full calendar of events throughout the summer.

It’s clear that just a single promo-event might not help to sustain the excitement of reading over the summer months so we designed family friendly activities for each month of the long, hot, Texas summer.

In June each public library in our tri-city district will host a “Night at the Museum” type of event where kids and parents will play games and read books among the shelves for an evening of book-loving fun.

July will bring families back to the library for “Reading Under the Stars”. Parents and their kids will view entertaining book trailers projected on an outdoor screen while they lounge on the lawn. Families will be sure to make the night memorable as they read new titles by flashlight sitting on quilts and blankets under a star-filled sky.

Our back to school night in August will be an event where we Skype with authors who’ve written books across the content areas. We want our students to hear from experts who can easily promote excitement about math, social studies, science, technology and fine arts as our kids look forward to heading back to class.

Provide Opportunities for Kids to Talk about the Books They’re Reading

We’re planning times and dates for school libraries to be open during the summer so kids can check out books and have “meet-ups” with friends to talk about books and share recommendations.

Last summer we created an Edmodo account with a 5th grade class so they could chat with their teacher and classmates over the summer about what they were reading during their vacation months. Setting up that secure platform for our students district-wide will be an important part of keeping them excited about what they’re reading. Teachers, students, and parents can all join in the conversation about books.

Promote Your Summer Reading Program

It’s critical to communicate with parents and the community about our summer reading program now and throughout the summer. To foster excitement, we start in just a few short weeks with a video showcasing civic leaders, school board members, central administration, campus staff, teachers, parents and most importantly our students lip-syncing bookish lyrics to a pop tune (top of our list–a Taylor Swift hit) to kick off the excitement about our summer reading program. Be watching for that thing to go viral!

Yard signs, small posters for business owners, website announcements, social media and printed flyers will all be a part of our promotional push to get kids and their families to read all summer long. We’re even wondering if it’s possible to use our automated email and phone systems over the summer as a way to remind families about the monthly reading events.

Celebrate with Meaningful Incentives

All three city libraries are coordinating with our district committee to provide plenty of meaningful incentives to keep kids reading. It won’t matter which library our students choose over the summer, they’ll be able to log the minutes they read in a consistent manner on the same platform. Reading goals will be celebrated by book giveaways, free passes to local community events and all manner of kid-friendly rewards.

Our district and community leaders are clear about the risk of regression over the summer, but we’re feeling optimistic that our students and their parents will be pleasantly surprised at how easy and enjoyable it will be reading their way through the summer months.

Stay tuned. I’ll be sharing updates periodically here on this blog and on Twitter (you can follow me @vrkimmel) about our summer reading program, HEB Reads!  And, you can view the summer reading fun on our district website once we start promoting it at http://www.hebisd.edu/

What are you doing in your classroom, on your campus, in your district to combat Summer Slide? We want to hear about it!

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