Guest Opinion: Keep students reading so they can avoid the 'slide'


June 20, 2014 

Friday is Summer Learning Day, an annual milestone designed to help spread awareness about the importance of summer education.

The season might seem like the perfect time of year to relax, but it's also when the most significant learning loss occurs. The problem is especially prevalent among lower-income children, who make as much progress in reading during the academic year as middle-income children but experience a "summer slide" because they have less access to learning resources, such as books. By the end of the fifth grade, students from low-income households are nearly three grade equivalents behind their more affluent peers in reading.

The differences in a child's summer learning experiences during their elementary school years can actually affect whether they graduate high school and continue on to college.

Squandering reading skills over the summer is expensive, too. Some experts claim that reteaching forgotten material after summer break costs more than $1,500 per student each year. This adds up to more than $18,000 over the course of a single K-12 career - an expense Idaho can ill afford.

The experts all agree that the easiest way to squelch summer slide is to keep reading. In fact, reading with your young child 15-20 minutes each day and encouraging your older child to read at least six books over the course of the summer can keep even a struggling reader from regressing.

To motivate your children to read over the summer, every effort should be made to let them choose books they enjoy. It's important to match books with your child's age, interests and abilities, because they are less likely to read materials that do not interest them. Kids receive the most gains in reading achievement when they choose the materials themselves and read for enjoyment.

Also, keep reading aloud. Reading aloud benefits all children and teens, but especially those who struggle.

And remember: All children can benefit from a trip to the local library. The summer reading programs offered by public libraries expose children to great quantities of print and meaningful language opportunities that researchers say are crucial to reading achievement.

Many libraries throughout the state - including those in Boise, Burley, Caldwell, Garden City, Jerome, Lewiston, Nampa, and Shoshone - are participating in the Idaho Commission for Libraries' Literacy in the Park program to help prevent summer learning loss. In its second year, the initiative piggybacks on Idaho Foodbank and Idaho State Department of Education summer food programs and offers kids storytime, activities and books to borrow from traveling libraries.

Beyond that, libraries throughout the Gem State offer a variety of free summer learning resources any family can use. Some even incorporate science in exciting ways. For instance, the commission's "Make It at the Library" project has helped 11 libraries create public spaces equipped with gear and guides that let teens and tweens explore technology, such as robotics and 3D printing, in fun and engaging ways.

From Idaho Core Standards to campaigns such as Don't Fail Idaho and Go On Idaho, the Gem State is focusing a great deal of time and energy on improving educational outcomes. Taking steps to prevent summer slide - including celebrating Summer Learning Day and exploring your local library - can help ensure that these efforts succeed.

Please visit Libraries.Idaho.Gov or your local library's website for more details about the summer learning resources available in your community. And please keep your kids reading all summer.

Ann Joslin is the Idaho state librarian.

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