3 Ways to Beat The Summer Slide Without an Uphill Battle
It’s a quiet early evening at the library when a father and his soon-to-be eighth grade daughter approach my desk. I ask them how I can help and the father gestures meaningfully to the daughter. She shrugs and shakes her head. After a beat, he relents, “She needs help finding something to read over the summer so she doesn’t stop learning.”
Most parents don’t state the underlying reason so frankly, but this scene is one that will repeat itself again and again throughout the summer at libraries across the country. And for good reason! For years, we’ve heard about research showing that reading ability and other academic skills can be lost without practice over the summer months. Forebodingly known as “the summer slide,” it makes perfect sense why an encouraging grown-up would find themselves in the library seeking “something” for their kid to read during the school break.
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But what about our shrugging tween? What motivates her or any other reluctant reader to pick up a book? What makes them actually want to read for the recommended 20 minutes a day that can help prevent learning loss?
The answer is the same as getting them to voluntarily read the rest of the year: choice! This is a key component in making summer reading feel less like homework and more like a prime opportunity to read something that truly appeals to them.
If you’re now wondering how to go about finding such appealing reading material, you’ve come to the right place. Here are three ways to ward off the summer slide without making it feel like an uphill battle.
Tip #1: Ask your librarian for suggestions with your child in tow!
We’re happy to give reading recommendations based on your description of your child or teen’s interests, reading level, sense of humor, and other selection criteria, but nothing streamlines the process quite like a direct conversation. Not only can we get a real sense of their likes and dislikes, but they also have a chance to sample a few pages and see if the book is actually a good fit. Also, parents with specific hopes for their child’s summer reading diet (more diversity in series, format, voices, etc.) can let us translate those requests into choices that still reflect personal interests without feeling prescriptive. In some cases, we also may be able to weigh in and offer reassurance on what your child’s naturally inclined to read.
Let’s go back to the twelve year-old here with her dad. When we got to talking, she revealed that what she really wanted was reading that felt more like watching. Her dad separately expressed an interest in her diversifying from just reading graphic novels alone. So while the mix we came up with did include comics based off the cartoon Rick and Morty and a graphic novel ghost story that felt a little like Annabelle Comes Home, there was also a YA thriller novel with a similar vibe to the teen television drama Pretty Little Liars. Dad agreed to this variety pack and everyone (including this book matchmaking librarian) went home happy.
Tip #2: Don’t be discouraged by required summer reading
Unfortunately, not every reader has free rein over what they read from June to August. In their own push against the summer slide, many schools will provide lists or even required summer reading assignments for students. So much for choice, right?
But don’t despair. First off, there are a growing number of teachers who are making an effort to update their lists to reflect the wide range of genres, formats, voices and subject matters that could potentially capture an off-duty student’s interests. For those facing down a stodgier list of classics, choice may ultimately need to be infused elsewhere. Maybe that looks like a quick read in the form of manga (Japanese graphic novels), sports magazine articles, or superhero comics. Maybe the family agrees to download and listen to an e-audiobook together on a family road trip. Your local library has apps like Libby from Overdrive and Hoopla that can help you do any or all of the above even if you’re not able to physically come into the library over the summer. Whatever works to keep some of their summer reading out of genuine interest.
Tip #3: Look for less likely jumping off points
Was your kid wowed (like everyone else) by the Women’s National Soccer Team? Are they fixated on Fortnite? Why not harness that enthusiasm into some related reading? Challenge them to sharpen a skill or learn something new about a person they admire. The truth is not everyone wants to dig into rich fantasy worlds, or even popular series like Diary of a Wimpy Kid or Dog Man. When my husband was in third grade, he strongly preferred ESPN to Nickelodeon. So a book on anyone from the Dream Team probably would have gone over much better than a Hardy Boys mystery. Update that to Alex Morgan or Stephen Curry — both of whom are featured in the new illustrated sports biography series Epic Athletes — and this probably still holds true for a fair number of kids.
Another way to bring together your kids, hobbies, and books is to check out the calendar of free events happening at libraries near you. Librarians love to pair these activities with book displays that invite families to dive deeper. One of my fondest memories from last summer was a Paper Engineering Challenge that sparked new interest in books on advanced paper airplane designs. And since we’re really only halfway through the summer, there’s still plenty of time for superhero drawing demos, stop motion animation workshops, and celebrations of the 50th anniversary of Apollo’s moon landing.
For the sake of their long-term love of reading as well as short-term summer learning goals, make it your own summer reading challenge to find books, comics, or articles that really speak to your child. Let your local public library be your partner in the battle against the summer slide!