Beat Brain Drain

Help your kid's reading skills soar during summer break with these words of advice from literacy experts.
girl with digital tablet

When Kelley Dolling's first-grade students go on summer vacation, they forget a lot of the reading skills they've learned. "I talk to their second-grade teachers, and find out that many children who were doing great in June are struggling in September," says Dolling, who teaches in Cottonwood, California. "We call it the summer slide."

Indeed, studies show that students who read little, if at all, when school's out can lose valuable ground. And since many 7- and 8-year-olds are just becoming competent readers, it's especially important for them to spend time practicing. Read up on how to make books a fun part of your family's summer routine.

Say Yes More Often

Chances are, your child will receive a recommended summer reading list from his school, but don't limit him to those books, suggests Richard Allington, Ph.D., past president of the International Reading Association. A review of 28 studies found that students read more and learn best when they're allowed to select their own material. "It isn't that hard to get kids to read during the summer -- it's hard to get them to read the books you want them to read," Dr. Allington says. His advice? Take your child to the library or bookstore once a week and let him decide what he wants to read. That means not objecting if he chooses a Justin Bieber biography, the latest issue of Sports Illustrated Kids, or Captain Underpants, a graphic novel. After all, what you really want is for your child to develop a love of reading, and that's unlikely to happen if you're forcing him to read about things he's not interested in. If he's having trouble choosing, suggest these teacher favorites: The World According to Humphrey, by Betty G. Birney, the A to Z Mysteries series, by Ron Roy, and Gooney Bird Greene, by Lois Lowry.

Make It Special

You want your child to be as enthusiastic about reading as she is about splashing around in the neighborhood pool or playing on her Minecraft app. So you've got to sell it a little -- at least until she gets so hooked that you have to pry her away to do something else. You can entice reluctant readers with "drop everything and read" time. You simply shout "DEAR time!" once a day and everyone in the family (including you) grabs a book and reads for at least 15 minutes. (Snag ideas for yourself from our Mom Must Read blog at parents.com/blogs.) Make cozy nooks around the house with colorful beanbags, pillows, and a few books or set up a reading tent in the backyard.

Think Beyond Books

Don't forget about all the other text in your child's world. When you're at the playground, grocery store, or amusement park, encourage him to look carefully at the signs. "New, reluctant readers may get overwhelmed by a book, but if they're just reading about their favorite animal at the zoo, they're more motivated because they really want to understand what the words say," explains Denise Boehm, a second-grade teacher in Weston, Florida.

Offer a Reward

Many bookstores, public libraries, and elementary schools have summer reading initiatives with prizes. They work! A study at Dominican University, in River Forest, Illinois, found that incoming fourth-graders who took part in a library program significantly improved their reading skills during the summer break. The Barnes & Noble summer reading program (barnesandnoble.com) will give your child a free book for participating, or you can try to tempt her with the 10 tokens given for filling out the Chuck E. Cheese's (chuckecheese.com) reading rewards calendar.

Go Digital

If your kid loves screens, consider getting him a tablet or download a few e-books at his level and let him read on yours for a change. Websites can also boost reading skills. Ask your child's teacher if his school has a subscription to an online reading program such as Reading A-Z or Lexia that you can log on to over the summer. Or try Abcya.com, a free site that offers sight-word games, storybooks, and other activities organized by grade level. Just remember: One of the best strategies for motivating your child to read over the break is to limit overall screen time. "If your child has easy access to electronics that provide fun with little effort, reading is naturally going to be a tougher sell," says Daniel Willingham, Ph.D., a cognitive scientist at the University of Virginia, in Charlottesville. So stash books in the car, and the next time your child says he's bored, leave your smartphone in your purse and ask him to read a story to you instead.

Originally published in the June 2013 issue of Parents magazine.

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