Summer reading keeps younger minds sharp
Posted: Thursday, May 24, 2012 9:47 am
By: Tre Hargett, Tennessee Secretary of State
We all know how important school is to a child’s development, but learning outside the classroom is extremely important, too.
In fact, students who don’t continue to learn after school lets out for the summer run the risk of falling behind their classmates. Studies have shown that students who don’t read over the summer months lose up to a month of the instruction time they received during the previous academic year.
Students who fall behind during the summer often don’t catch up after the school year resumes. It’s particularly a problem with students from economically-disadvantaged backgrounds. In a 2003 Education Digest article, University of Florida education professors Richard L. Allington and Anne McGill-Franzen wrote that less-affluent students without access to summer reading opportunities may fall as much as a year and a half behind students from more-affluent backgrounds by the end of the fifth grade.
By ninth grade, researchers believe up to two-thirds of the difference in reading skills among students is attributable to the types of learning activities the students were exposed to during the summer months while they were in elementary school.
That’s the bad news. The good news is there is a remedy for this problem that is as close as the local public library.
Nearly all public libraries across Tennessee offer free summer reading programs for children. (Many offer programs geared toward teens and adults as well.)
The programs vary from community to community, but they often include games, activities, puppet shows, magic acts, free prizes and guest readers. In short, they create a safe and fun environment where young people can maintain and build their reading skills.
Since these programs are conducted in libraries rather than schools, there’s a benefit to children who struggle with reading in a classroom setting. A library may seem less intimidating for those students.
Reading helps children learn by fueling their imagination and encouraging them to become more curious about the world around them. That can have a positive impact on their work in other subjects when they return to school.
And, of course, reading is a skill they will need throughout their lives, no matter what career paths they decide to take.
I am proud that the Tennessee State Library and Archives (TSLA), which is part of my office, provides promotional support and training for summer reading programs.
Each year, TSLA gives librarians across the state manuals that offer tips for running successful reading programs as well as promotional items such as posters, bookmarks, pencils and participation certificates.
TSLA also hosts annual workshops to give librarians a chance to come together and discuss what works in summer reading programs.
Summer reading programs remain extremely popular in Tennessee. Last year, more than 88,000 children, 9,000 teenagers and 10,000 adults participated in the programs statewide. While the children’s programs are by far the biggest, the teen and adult programs have been growing the last few years as well. In a sluggish economy, it’s not surprising that teens and adults are taking advantage of a free entertainment option.
This year, I hope we can exceed the 2011 participation numbers. I encourage all Tennesseans – young and even not-so-young – to see what type of summer reading programs are available at their local libraries.
Reading is a fun way to pass time during the hot summer months, but it’s so much more than that. It’s also a skill that can lead to a better life.
One of the themes to this year’s summer reading programs is “Dream Big – Read!” That’s great advice to follow.