Guest column: Reading all summer long

Friday was Summer Learning Day, an annual milestone designed to help spread awareness about the importance of summer learning.

Summer may seem like the perfect time of year to relax, but it’s also the season where the most significant learning loss occurs. The problem is especially prevalent among lower-income children, who make as much progress in reading during the academic year as middle-income children but experience a “summer slide” because they have less access to learning resources, such as books. By the end of the fifth grade, students from low-income households are nearly three grade equivalents behind their more affluent peers in reading.

The differences in a child’s summer learning experiences during their elementary school years can actually impact whether they graduate high school and continue on to college.

Squandering reading skills over the summer is expensive, too. Some experts claim that re-teaching forgotten material after summer break costs more than $1,500 per student each year. This adds up to more than $18,000 over the course of a single K-12 career — an expense Idaho can ill afford.

The experts all agree the easiest way to squelch summer slide is to keep reading. In fact, reading with your young child 15-20 minutes each day and encouraging your older child to read at least six books over the course of the summer can keep even a struggling reader from regressing.

To motivate your children to read over the summer, every effort should be made to let them choose books they enjoy. It’s important to match books with your child’s age, interests, and abilities, because they are less likely to read materials that do not interest them. Kids receive the most gains in reading achievement when they choose the materials themselves and read for enjoyment.

Also, keep reading aloud. Reading aloud benefits all children and teens — especially those who struggle.

And remember: All children can benefit from a trip to the local library. The summer-reading programs offered by public libraries expose children to great quantities of print and meaningful language opportunities that researchers say are crucial to reading achievement.

Many libraries throughout the state — including those in Boise, Burley, Caldwell, Garden City, Jerome, Lewiston, Nampa and Shoshone — are participating in the Idaho Commission for Libraries’ Literacy in the Park program to help prevent summer learning loss. In its second year, the initiative piggybacks on Idaho Foodbank and Idaho State Department of Education summer-feeding programs and offers kids storytime, activities, and books to borrow from traveling lending libraries.

Beyond that, libraries throughout the Gem State offer a variety of free summer learning resources any family can use. Some even incorporate science in exciting ways. For instance, the Commission’s “Make It at the Library” project has helped 11 libraries throughout Idaho create public spaces equipped with gear and guides that let teens and tweens explore technology like robotics and 3D printing firsthand in fun, engaging ways.

From Idaho Core Standards to campaigns like Don’t Fail Idaho and Go On Idaho, the Gem State is focusing a great deal of time and energy on improving educational outcomes. Taking steps to prevent summer slide — including celebrating Summer Learning Day and exploring your local library — can help ensure these efforts succeed.

Please visit Libraries.Idaho.Gov or your local library’s website for more details about the summer learning resources available in your community. And please keep your kids reading all summer long.

Joslin is Idaho’s state librarian.