I first learned about the term "summer slide" from my daughter's fifth-grade teacher. He tested the class's reading skills at the start of the year and compared them with what they had been at the end of fourth grade. Most of the kids had slipped -- even my daughter, who read a couple of books a week during break, got a lower mark on the test. "It's well-known that when kids read little or nothing over the summer, their skills can regress," explains Andrew Holt, a reading specialist for kindergarten to fifth-graders at the Gilman School, in Baltimore. "But even among kids who still read a fair amount, comprehension and fluency tend to drop because they don't explore the books as deeply." With your help, your child's skills can remain stable or even improve.
Carry Over School Routines
"For the last couple of years, my child's teachers have required the class to read for 15 minutes every night," says Juli Hale, of Florence, Kentucky. "In the summer, we keep it up." Since it doesn't sound like much time, Hale says her 8-year-old daughter, Lillian, doesn't usually complain about it: "In fact, once her 15 minutes is over, she often reads longer to finish the chapter and then I talk with her about it."
Pair His Passions with Prose
"Reluctant readers can get hooked on books about their fascinations," says Pamela Farris, Ph.D., professor emeritus of literature at Illinois State University, in Normal, and a retired elementary-school teacher. "I once taught a fifth-grader who struggled until he checked out books about snakes from the library." Some newer titles that match up with common big-kid interests: Minecraft: The Complete Handbook Collection; Derek Jeter's Ultimate Baseball Guide 2015; Mo'ne Davis: Remember My Name; and Percy Jackson's Greek Gods. Ask your child to wow you with a couple of facts from the books.
Explore Different Formats
"Graphic novels are popular for both boys and girls this age," says Elizabeth Bird, a youth-materials specialist at the New York Public Library and mom of two. "You may think they're an easy read, but many have challenging vocabulary and complex plots." Great options include El Deafo (which received the 2015 Newbery Honor Book award), Smile, and Comic Squad: Recess!. "Kids are also all over almanacs and other books with goofy facts, such as 'How fast can a shark swim?'" says Dr. Farris. Several publishers, including National Geographic Kids, Time for Kids, and Scholastic, produce an almanac annually. Suggest that your child compile a list of his favorite facts and then read them to younger siblings or neighborhood kids. To make it more fun, he could even pretend to read them in a radio announcer's voice. "Reading fluency isn't just about not stumbling over the words -- it's also about prosody, reading the words with emotion," says Michelle Primerano, of Nazareth, Pennsylvania, who was an elementary-school reading specialist for six years.
Embrace Her Taste
"It's important to encourage, not redirect, her selections," says Katie O'Dell, youth-services director at Multnomah County Library, in Portland, Oregon. "Many of us with dusty collections of The Baby-Sitters Club books can attest to the power of series books." Instead, help her make a checklist of all the titles in the series, decorate it, and celebrate as she completes it.
Take a Deeper Dive
In school, kids aren't simply asked to read a book; they're challenged to analyze the characters and plots, points out Primerano. Work with your child to do the same at home. "I've been helping my 7-year-old son compare and contrast the personality traits of the characters in the Scooby-Doo! books and the A-Z Mysteries," says Lisa Cohn, of Portland, Oregon.
Branch Out a Little
What happens when she runs out of her favorite series? Ask librarians to suggest "read-alikes," what they call books with a similar genre (mystery or fantasy, for instance) and reading level. For instance, Bird says, if your kid has powered through the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series, she might move on to Timmy Failure and then to The Origami Yoda. "Each of these has a little more writing and less art," she says. Similarly, fans of Magic Tree House may graduate to The Treasure Chest, Junie B. Jones to Dory Fantasmagory, and Harry Potter to the The Iron Trial. You might encourage your child to write a review of the new selection and promise that you'll e-mail it to friends and family.
Follow new releases. "Kids who read a lot have trouble finding titles they aren't familiar with," says Bird. Learn about what was just published (or will be out soon) from the School Library Journal's 100 Scope Notes (100scopenotes.com) and also at greatkidbooks.blogspot.com. Some terrific picks for this summer: Extraordinary People (ages 7+), The Runaway's Gold (8+), and Circus Mirandus (9+). "Also check out past winners of the Rebecca Caudill Young Readers' Book Awards because they're tailored to this age group," says Dr. Farris. Find the master list at rebeccacaudill.org.
Improve His Comprehension
Kids who read books quickly may not fully understand the plot. "One of my students read Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Cabin Fever but couldn't explain to me what cabin fever is," says Holt. Talk to your son or daughter about how the title relates to the book, discuss any surprising plot twists, and ask whether the ending was satisfying. "Suggest that your child write an alternate conclusion to the book or make a song about it," says Primerano.
Organize a Local Book Swap
"One of my friends just told me that she bought her kid a book at the store and by the time they got home, he said, 'I'm done!'" recalls Bird. So rather than always buying new books for a quickie read, this summer ask a group of friends with children around the same age if they'd each like to bring three to five titles over for the kids to trade. Says Bird: "Kids will ask each other about the books and you'll naturally get the same kind of conversations that go on in the classroom."
Originally published in the July 2015 issue of Parents magazine.