Monday, July 14, 2008

Summer reading packs educational value

by Elizabeth Burmaster, State Superintendent of Wisconsin's Department of Public Instruction

Summer reading is fun, but there's a special value that extends into the school year. Students who read four to six books during the summer return to school ready to learn.

Research has shown what teachers have known forever: students who do not engage in educational activities during summer vacation suffer learning loss. That loss can amount to as much as two to three months of learning each year. The greatest learning losses are procedural and factual information, meaning children who don't read in the summer tend to start the school year fuzzy on math and spelling. Summer readers, however, return to school in fall more enthusiastic about reading and learning. Many gain a month of learning by staying engaged and involved during the summer break from school.

It really doesn't matter what kinds of materials children read during vacation; in fact, it's better for youth to pick what they like. Joke books, magazines, mysteries, or sports stories-whatever suits their fancy is best for recreational reading. There are no tests or reports. This reading is at a comfortable level to keep it fun. Still, recreational reading develops vocabulary and builds reading speed and comprehension skills.

Wisconsin's public libraries are great for children to select reading material, and the price is right: free. Adding adventure to the reading fun, each year Wisconsin joins 46 member states in the Collaborative Summer Library program, which provides high-quality summer reading materials based on a topic. This year's theme for preschool and elementary students is "Catch the Reading Bug!" Programming for teens centers around "Metamorphosis@Your Library."

Children and teens who register for the Summer Library Program receive a reading record to tally the number of pages, minutes, or books they've read. Many libraries offer literacy games and activities and provide incentives to support reading efforts. This year, in partnership with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, children who meet their reading goals earn a day pass good for one free car admission to any one of 58 state parks, forests, or recreational areas in the state. There is so much to gain by reading during the summer. I encourage all families to visit the library and "Catch the Reading Bug!"

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