Summer "Slide" and Summer Reading: Research, Suggestions, and Resources

When I was a kid, summer was an endless stretch of long days with not much to do. We didn’t have camps, or sports teams until middle school. We didn’t have summer homework or lessons to do. Just lots of unstructured time. My parents were really good at giving us the “gift of boredom” way before that was a thing.

Nowadays, a lot of kids don’t have the gift of boredom. Instead, they’ve got daycare, camps, sports, lessons, responsibilities at home, and even summer homework. They are busy. Things to do. Places to be.

When the topic of summer reading comes up, my gut reaction used to be - no. Just no! Why in the world, would we choose to give kids even more to do? Why not just let them be kids for the summer? Let them play! Let them be bored! Relax, rest up, kids. We’ll see you in the fall.

But my thinking on this has changed.

First, I have learned that summer reading is most effective when kids CHOOSE to read. KIds have to enjoy the books in order for summer reading to work. So, my worries about adding to kids’ work load don’t really apply if kids are choosing to read. I can get behind summer reading that is not required homework. If we can somehow get kids to read over the summer for enjoyment, I’m all for it.

Second, I have also learned that many kids lose about three months of reading progress over the summer. Plus, it can take until December for kids to catch back up to where they were at the end of the previous school year.

Most final assessments are conducted in May, not June… so from May to November, there’s zero growth as a reader for many, many kids. All that lost time adds up across a student’s years in school and you start to see how summer reading has an enormous impact. That lost time is what researchers refer to as the “summer reading slide.”

And the kids are impacted by this tend to be kids with the fewest resources at home who don’t have easy access to books they want to read. If you aren’t practicing something, it’s hard to get better at it. Meanwhile, other kids have library cards, books at home, adults who read to them, or schools who provide them with plenty books to read at home.

So now it is not just an academic issue. Its an equity issue. All of our kids deserve the opportunity to read over the summer. If some schools can make it happen, why can’t our schools?

So, how can educators get kids to read over the summer, without requiring it or forcing it?

A few months ago, I put together these presentation slides. There are links to peer reviewed research, data from one school district I have worked with, and links to lots of resources for finding books to give to kids. Please explore and consider what you can do to get books into kids’ hands—books that they will read over the summer not because it’s required, but because they actually want to read.