Reading shown to help students avoid 'summer slide'

Although most of a kid’s time during summer break will be spent enjoying playful and lazy days in the sunshine, reading specialists suggest that students get in 100 to 150 minutes of reading a week.

Franck Boston

With summer vacation kicking off for students all across the Lowcountry, parents are figuring out how to juggle schedules filled with camps, vacations, sports, trips to the beach, hanging out with friends and much more.

But many of them don't think about academics.

"Summer is supposed to be a chance to take a break from schoolwork," says Summerville mom Mary Black. "But at the same time, you don't want your kids to lose everything they just spent the school year learning."

Unfortunately, that problem is so common it has a name, several, actually. Known as summer slide, summer slump or just plain summer-learning loss, it's something that drives teachers nuts.

"You spend all year teaching, and then you know it's going to just go right out of their heads the minute the final bell rings," says Lacy Young, who teaches kindergarten at a private school in Charleston. "In the fall, they will have to spend a good bit of time reviewing things they already know just to get back where they were when school let out."

Research spanning 100 years shows that students typically score lower on standardized tests at the end of summer vacation than they do on the same tests at the beginning of the summer, according to the National Summer Learning Association.

In its own study, the association found that, at best, students showed little or no academic growth over summer. At worst, they lost one to three months of learning.

According to the authors of a November 2002 report from the National Association for Summer Learning: "A conservative estimate of lost instructional time is approximately two months or roughly 22 percent of the school year. ... It's common for teachers to spend at least a month re-teaching material that students have forgotten over the summer. That month of re-teaching eliminates a month that could have been spent on teaching new information and skills."

The good news is that those same studies that show students lose some of their reading skills over the summer say that students who read just five or six books perform better during the following school year, according to education.com.

Reading specialists suggest that students participate in sustained silent reading for 20 to 30 minutes at least five days a week over the summer. That adds up to 100 to 150 minutes of reading a week, according to Mark-My-Time, a company that sells bookmarks with a built-in timer so kids can time their reading sessions or keep a cumulative count of how long they have been reading.

To encourage students to read during their summer breaks, Berkeley, Charleston and Dorchester County libraries are participating in programs that reward children, teens and even adults for reading.

The theme of the national program this year is "Make a Splash: Read" for youngsters; "Make Waves" for teenagers; and "Reading Wave" for adults.

Last year, 13,000 people signed up to participate in the program in Charleston County alone.

"These programs help keep kids' reading skills active," says Pam Cadden, children services coordinator at the Charleston Public Library. "It keeps away the summer slump when they get back to school."

She says libraries can provide parents with tips to encourage reading, such as making them more fun by adding related activities, and tips to squeeze reading time into busy schedules, like listening to books on tape in the car.

In fact, reading specialists say that it doesn't matter what kids read, as long as they are reading. Even reading things like directions, TV listings, comic books, street signs and menus is good practice.

"Like many adults, kids gravitate toward light reading during the summer," says Education.com's Editor in Chief Danielle Wood. "Research tells us it really doesn't matter what kids read during the summer, it's just critical that they do read."

Black is all for light reading.

"During the school year, my kids don't get to read a lot of what they want to read because they are so busy with things they have to read," she says.

"I tell them to keep a pile of books next to their beds that they want to read, and to tackle them during the summer," she says. "I let them read things that interest them, even though sometimes it's not what I would choose for them."

Reading for fun and prizes

Charleston, Berkeley and Dorchester County libraries are having summer reading programs.

For younger children, the program is called "Make a Splash: Read"; the teen program is "Make Waves"; and the adult program is "Reading Wave."

Also for younger children, prizes are determined by the number of days or hours a child reads or is read to.

For older children and adults, it's the number of pages or the number of books.

Sign up at any branch library.

Reading programs

Charleston County Library branches have summer reading kick-off programs:

Sunday on Saturday: Noon June 5, at the Poe/Sullivan's Island branch, 1921 I'On Ave., Sullivan's Island. 883-3914.

"The Frog Prince" by Porkchop Productions:

--2 p.m. June 7 at Johns Island Regional Library, 3531 Maybank Highway. 559-1945.

--9:15 a.m. and 10:30 a.m. June 8 at Main Library, 68 Calhoun St. 805-6930.

--2:30 p.m. June 8 at West Ashley Library, 45 Windermere Blvd. 766-6635.

--10:30 a.m. June 9 at John L. Dart Library, 1067 King St. 722-7550.

--2 p.m. June 9 at St. Andrews Regional Library, 1735 N. Woodmere Drive. 766-2546.

--4 p.m. June 9 at Otranto Road Regional Library, 2261 Otranto Road. 572-4094.

Young Adult Summer Reading Kick Off Party: 3 p.m. June 7, St. Andrews Regional Library, 1735 N. Woodmere Drive. 766-2546.

Cowabunga! Summer Reading Kickoff: 4 p.m. June 7 at Folly Beach Library, 55 Center St. 588-2001.

Young Adult Summer Reading Kick Off Party: 3 p.m. June 8 at Mount Pleasant Regional Library, 1133 Mathis Ferry Road. 849-6161.

Read-a-Palooza: 1 p.m. June 12 at Johns Island Regional Library, 3531 Maybank Hwy. 559-1945.