“Summer slide” is a common, informal term that has parents and teachers anxious about their learners’ progress and retention for those sunny two months a year when school is not in session. This concept of “sliding back” from the level students reached at the end of their school year while home over the summer is rooted in some developmental realities of our young learners. Practice of skills learned is required for those skills to turn from new learning into familiar, usable skills and then into habit. From September to June, students are engaged in literacy activities ideally at home and school that support this growth, but it is critical for reading to continue over the summer, minimally to sustain the progress they’ve made. So why is summer reading truly so beneficial?

Benefits of Summer Reading

Benefit #1: Expanded Vocabulary

The benefits of reading are undeniable. A student reading twenty minutes a day at home will hear on average 1.8 million words per year. Compare that to a child reading five minutes per day at home who hears roughly 282,000 words per year, or a student reading on average one minute per day at home being exposed to 8,000 words per year, and the numbers are clear. No one would argue that the child hearing 1.8 million words is going to have a far more robust vocabulary than the child hearing 8,000.

Research on language development claims it takes up to 17 exposures for a child to securely add a word to their personal vocabulary, and literacy research has proven that depth of vocabulary is directly linked to a learner’s literacy level and ability to read complex texts. Maintaining twenty minutes a day over the summer is critical to at least maintaining student literacy levels through the development of their vocabulary.

Benefit #2: Enhanced Emotional Intelligence & Empathy

Reading fiction is one of the very best ways for children (and adults!) to develop empathy. We may not personally experience every problem captured in the storyline of a fiction book, but by walking through it from the character’s point of view, we as readers develop empathy skills for others who are experiencing challenges, even those with which we are less familiar. In the same vein, students also develop stronger emotional intelligence as they hear the internal dialogue of a character navigating a challenge in the plot. Interested in learning more about developing empathy in your learning through literature and beyond? Check out the book Unselfie by Michelle Borba.

Benefit #3: Broadening Perspective

Similar to emotional intelligence, students can also expand their perspectives on the human experience through texts about people that are different from them. Reading books with characters who have different family structures, races, cultures, abilities, and interests can both develop a sense of inclusivity for your child while also opening the door to important conversations with your child about equality and respecting differences. In our diverse world, it is critical that we encourage students to select books and engage with text about people that are different from them, and ideally that are written by voices authentic to those identities. Doing so over the summer likely reinforces the work of your child’s school district and shows what moral pillars exist in your home as well.

Benefit #4: Background Knowledge

Further, with expanding vocabulary and emotions comes a much deeper background of people, places, concepts and things in the world around us. Students who can readily connect something they’ve already been exposed to with new content, like in a science or social studies lesson, are far more likely to both actively engage in the learning and also retain the information purposefully. While “experience is the best teacher”, minimally having had exposure to the Mayan ruins or Newton’s laws of motion from a plot in a book can trigger synapses to light up and connect in students’ brains when they are later mentioned in a lesson at school or more authentically in real life. Reading can build expansive and unusual background knowledge that’s value can’t be measured or predicted upon development.

Benefit #5: Escape on a Rainy Day!

Of course, one of the best benefits of reading over the summer is having a screen-free activity on a rainy day. As we all proceed with caution this summer and employ continued social distancing, reading provides an activity for children that is engaging and fun, without having to leave the comfort of home. 

Strategies for Engaging Students in Summer Reading

As the adult fostering a love of reading in your child at home, knowing and accessing available resources is critical! Check out your local public library for current summer reading programs and summer reading enhancements, and make visiting the library part of your summer routine. Utilize suggested activities like this game board or other motivating challenges to give your young reader some extrinsic motivation to keep up the habit.

Don’t forget the value of being read to, especially for children in elementary school. Often emergent readers may be reluctant to apply literacy skills independently as they fear it will replace the joyful experience of being read to by a beloved adult. Creating a balance, especially for young readers, of “who” reads is still highly beneficial for students to maintain and grow their literacy skills over the summer.

Make reading fun! Create special spaces for reading in your home, like a reading tent or corner with twinkle lights or a favorite stuffed animal audience. A “reading hideout” can be a very motivating factor in making reading a preferred summer activity! Allow your child as much choice as possible in the books being read, because truly the most important element of creating a reader is igniting a love for reading. If they are choosing books too far above their reading level, offer to read it with them, but also help them to find books of high-interest at their level. Before the school year ends, be sure to know your child’s reading level so that you can ask the librarian for help if needed with selecting “just-right books”.

Enjoy the special time with your reader at home this summer, and remember the million-word value of twenty minutes a day!