Each year, libraries across the U.S. encourage children (and sometimes adults, too!) to read over the summer through their summer reading programs. Children typically are asked to complete learning challenges or to read for a certain length of time in order to work their way up through different prizes. Many see summer reading as simply a fun activity, while others seem wary of it and will often decline to participate. However, the summer reading program is more than librarians giving out prizes for reading. The summer reading program is an integral part of the fight against summer slide–and a key reason why we should continue to support our community’s libraries.
Research has shown that children who do not read over the summer, and children who do not participate in learning opportunities such as attending camp or going to museums, return to school in the fall having lost many of the academic gains they made during the previous year. Children who do not read over the summer can lose an average of two months’ of reading skills–and this loss is cumulative. Children from lower income households who have less access to books and to learning activities are particularly vulnerable to summer slide.
Because children from lower-income households are more likely to suffer the summer slide, the library summer reading program is an important equalizing force. Some may have a problem with incentivizing reading–giving out prizes for amount of time read–but, it is important also to remember that the summer reading program is about free choice. School assignments may make reading seem like a chore to children–even books people like can become disagreeable when given as homework. Ultimately, the summer reading program encourages children to see reading as a fun, social activity that they can engage in, not only when being required to read for school, but also on their own for pleasure.
The summer reading program can easily be a success for even the most reluctant of readers, as even small amounts of reading during the summer can be effective in preventing the summer slide. Research has indicated that reading four to six books over the summer can help prevent a reader’s skills from regressing. (But, according to the latest Scholastic report, there has been an increase in children who read zero books over the summer.) Sharing this knowledge with parents can be empowering, as it gives them a concrete and achievable goal to work towards.
However, even though the summer reading program is designed to combat the summer slide by getting children to read, my library never explicitly mentions the summer slide when they advertise the program. I can understand that doing so would not be the best way to advertise the program to children. Still, I think it is important for libraries to explain the reasoning behind their programming, both to support parents who may be unfamiliar with the summer slide (only 53% are) or how to combat it, and to advocate more successfully for funding. Silence around the summer slide could be a part of why some parents do not give permission for their children to sign up for summer reading, or why they do not encourage their children to do so when the children resist. Silence around summer reading can also make it seem like the library is simply holding a three-month party, obscuring the important work they are doing while making reading fun.
The summer reading program offered by the public library is an important initiative to combat summer slide and to give every child a chance to succeed. As U.S. libraries continue to face budget cuts and financial struggles, reflecting on the work libraries do to raise up their communities becomes especially imperative. Libraries are always working tirelessly to promote equal access to books and to learning opportunities. The summer reading program, while fun, is a part of that mission.