One of my student teachers recently shared with me an email that she had received from her site teacher just prior to the end of school. My student teachers begin their pre-service training in August and complete it at the beginning of April. They are a permanent part of their students’ daily experience during that time. The teacher in the class where this particular student teacher had been working shared with her the results of a writing activity in May. The assignment was to write about five things that they have learned during their second grade year. One of the students wrote, “I have learned that student teachers disappear and leave you missing them.”
I thought of this story when I recently discussed helping children retain the academic learning that they receive during the school year. Will some of the skills “disappear” without the child missing them? Maintaining and supporting learned skills during the summer months is an age-old problem facing teachers and parents. We can’t afford to have skills “disappear.” When I was a first and second grade teacher, I was often dismayed in the fall when it was evident that many of the students had lost their mastery of some of the basic skills over the summer. This seemed to be particularly true with children who struggle with learning, especially in reading and math. Because learning concepts has been such a struggle for them, when the summer months come, these children feel released from that “learning prison” and feel free to “not think.” When fall comes, they have often slipped even further behind and the struggle begins again. It is critical that parents and schools do everything possible to put a maintenance program in place for those summer months so that skills are not lost. One important element of any plan is reading.
The following list contains suggestions of ways to engage struggling readers during the summer. While the suggestions would work for all children, special attention has been given to struggling learners who need to feel engaged in books and build connections between reading and real-life excitement.
- Create a fun and challenging game with an incentive at the end of the experience. Three of my grandchildren attend a school that challenges their students to read a certain number of pages each summer. When school begins in August, the children bring their individual reading logs back to school and they are totaled for each classroom. The classrooms with the highest number of pages earn a half-day outdoor activity and treats. This has proven to be very successful for that school. For struggling readers, I might change the activity slightly and use a total number of books instead of pages. Since they struggle with reading, counting books may be more appropriate. I think this activity could be adapted to a family situation, with a visible chart in the home to record progress and an appropriate fun experience at the end.
- Turn books into projects and activities. Some of my fondest memories as a parent came while helping one of my children build a project centered around one of the books that we had read together. I remember helping one of my sons build his own bow and arrow after reading The Indian in the Cupboard by Lynne Reid Banks. There are so many great books out now that invite project development. I recently read, Sophie’s Squash (1) and thought how much fun it would be to plant a squash plant in a garden area or even in a pot as a follow-up to this engaging story.
- Visit the local library on a regular basis during the summer months. Public libraries often have displays and other activities that encourage children to read particular books. Sometimes, visiting the library can be an adventure. We have a spectacular main library in downtown Salt Lake City that is right on the train line. When my grandchildren are visiting, they love to ride the train from my house to the downtown library. Whatever the situation, make going to the library a fun adventure.
- Read with the child. It is very critical for the adults in a child’s life to model reading and display excitement and joy in reading. I read to my children routinely from an early age. Even with all of that reading time, I still had one child who struggled with reading early on in school. I know it was the constant modeling of good reading and having someone else share excitement about the contents that helped him overcome his difficulties. When a child is able to read, the adult should take turns with him. Reading books also gives the adult a chance to have discussions about various topics. Book discussions offer opportunities to talk about subjects that are difficult to discuss out of context. I remember having a discussion about families coming in different sizes, colors, and configurations with one of my children. The discussion was more natural and had a connection for her because of what we had read. It was more powerful than discussing the topic without any particular references. During the project I mentioned in #2 above, my son and I were able to have a great discussion about stereotypes and the Native American culture.
- Choose a comfortable place to read. By suggesting this I am not saying that summer reading can only take place in one spot. I am suggesting a comfortable place in the house (or even outside if the child has a yard) that makes reading comfortable and regular. Having a familiar place that quietly says, “Reading Time,” may make reading more pleasant for some children. I know a family that has reading time at 11:00 a.m. every morning when they are home during the summer. The children go to their “reading nook” and pick up their reading where they left off the day before. This is especially effective in this home because Dad sometimes reads at the same time as a model, or he reads with them individually.
We know that children who read regularly during the summer months are more likely to retain their reading skills from the previous school year. In fact, in many cases, the child is able to even improve on skills by regularly practicing what she has learned.
Here are a few recently published books that would be fun this summer:
(1) Sophie’s Squash by Pat Zietlow Miller
Rufus Goes to School by Kim Griswell
Moo by David LaRochelle
If You Want to See a Whale by Julie Fogliano
Mr. Tiger Goes Wild by Peter Brown
Bully by Laura Vaccaro Seeger
Count the Monkeys by Mac Barnett
That’s Not a Good Idea! By Mo Willems
Check out the Elephant and Piggy Series from Mo Williams. There are lots of titles and the books are easy to read and very engaging and fun.
Mr. Orange by Truus Matti
Paperboy by Vince Vawter
Flora and Ulysses by Kate DiCamillo
The Year of Billy Miller by Kevin Henkes
On Came Home by Amy Timberlake
Prisoner 88 by Leah Pillegi