Parents, Get Your Kids To Read A Book This Summer — Any Book

Ah, summer breaks — laze away the summer days, gorge on watermelon, lose your reading ability…

Huh? Lose reading ability? Unfortunately, yes — there’s even more evidence than before that schoolkids who don’t read at all during the long summer break do worse in tests, and the effect is cumulative over the summers — which of course adds up slowly to worse grades, less competitive colleges, less career income. This important issue of the “summer slide” was discussed last week in the always informative Well blog at the New York Times. The experiment was very simple; one group of kids got free books of their choosing, and the control group was offered activity books. Then they were followed for a few summers and tested upon return to school. Here’s their summary of the new report:

Children who had received free books posted significantly higher test scores than the children who received activity books. The effect, 1/16th of a standard deviation in test scores, was equivalent to a child attending three years of summer school, according to the report to be published in September in the journal Reading Psychology. The difference in scores was twice as high among the poorest children in the study.

One very important finding was that any book was better than no book. Yes, even a Britney Spears bio was far better than nothing. The key is to get your child interested in any books, not just some pediatric-approved school list of “recommended reading”. Here’s more from the article:

One of the most notable findings was that children improved their reading scores even though they typically weren’t selecting the curriculum books or classics that teachers normally assigned for summer reading. That conclusion confirms other studies suggesting that children learn best when they are allowed to select their own books.

Surprisingly, the most popular book during the first year of the Florida study was a biography of Britney Spears.

“What that said to me was that there is a kid culture and a media culture that transcends what we think kids should be reading,” Dr. McGill-Franzen said. “I don’t think the majority of these kids ever read during the summer, but given the opportunity to select their own books and discuss what they knew about, ‘The Rock’ or Hannah Montana or Junie B. Jones was, in itself, motivating to them.”

Ellen Galinsky, president of the Families and Work Institute and author of a new book about how children learn, “Mind in the Making,” said she hoped that the findings would encourage parents and teachers to allow children to select their own reading material.

“A child’s interests are a door into the room of reading,” said Ms. Galinsky, who said her own son turned away from books during grade school. Because he liked music, she encouraged him to read music magazines or books about musicians. Her son later regained an interest in reading and has a Ph.D.

“If your child is turned off by reading, getting them to read anything is better than nothing,” she said.

Parents, there are still a few weeks of summer! Have your children read anything? There’s still time…

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