Fighting the Summer Slide with the Library Summer Reading Program

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.

9 thoughts on “Fighting the Summer Slide with the Library Summer Reading Program

  1. ashley says:

    I always love seeing all the kids come to summer reading sign up at the library where I volunteer. The summer reading program is always a big draw.


  2. christine @ lady gets lit says:

    I grew up going to the library once a week as a kid, and the summer reading program was my favorite part of the summer. I actually went to the library yesterday and found out they host an adult summer reading program as well! I guess I’d never thought until reading your post about what happens to kids who don’t read over the summer. I loved reading, but I can understand why some kids don’t want to read just because they’re told to. I’d never heard of the summer slide, but I definitely think more librarians should talk about it with parents. Like you said, so many parents aren’t aware of what happens to kids’ reading abilities when they’re not using the summer months to continue reading. Great post!!


    • Briana | Pages Unbound says:

      I think adult summer reading programs might be new-ish because I only really noticed them popping up a few years ago, but I love the idea. I did work at a library briefly, though, and it was a bit awkward (or sad?) to see people come in with their kids, make them sign up for the summer reading program, and then refuse to join the adult summer reading program, even when they were told they got a free gift just for signing up, reading newspapers or magazines could count, etc. I think it makes reading look like a chore to your kids, something you’re making them do because “it’s good for them” but not something you’re willing to do yourself.

      Liked by 1 person

      • christine @ lady gets lit says:

        Wow, I can’t imagine turning down an adult summer reading program! Granted, there’s no way I’ll make it through the summer without reading at least 4 books, which is the requirement. But I agree, there’s something weird about expecting your kids to do something that’s good for them, but not being willing to do it yourself. It would be like if you fed your kids broccoli every day but refused to eat it yourself!

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Dale says:

    I’m not surprised about the “summer slide” but I admit I hadn’t thought about it and my library doesn’t really mention it in connection with the kids’ summer reading program.

    My library also has an adult summer reading program where I can get “Library Bucks” to use for either fines or to buy books at its book sales (I’ve used them for both). I don’t necessarily need motivation to read books – but it doesn’t hurt!


    • Krysta says:

      I think libraries are really invested in making the summer reading program seem fun and mentioning learning and academic success sort of hinders that effort. I know my library carefully tries not to make any program seem learning-based in the advertsing, even if it is.

      I’ve seen more adult summer reading programs over the years and I think that’s great! It would be really cool if parents read along with their children. And, yeah, you might not need motivation to read, but why not earn prizes while doing something you enjoy anyway?

      Liked by 1 person

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