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“Once upon a time” in the summer

 | July 4, 2011

The calendar dates that pretty well all kids know: their birthday, Christmas, and the last day of school before the summer holidays.

Summer truly is a magical time for kids. It’s an end to early morning school-day routines, a time of sunshine and flip-flops, beaches and camping.

And, while the kids are mothballing their school brains for the season, teachers are planning how to retrain them in the fall. There can often be a bit of atrophy, a backward step in students’ learning after so long away from the classroom. While parents have to let their kids enjoy their well-earned break, they also have the responsibility of keeping the neurons firing. Summer reading is a fantastic way to do this.

One of the easiest ways of enjoying reading with the kids is through bedtime stories. Reading before bed hits so many “targets”, as a teacher would say. It gives kids a routine, they need it, they thrive on it, and it makes a parent’s job much easier if kids know what to expect. Bedtime reading provides quiet, quality time with your child at the end of the day. These moments of shared attention and emotion work toward establishing reading as a pleasurable experience. Reading quiets energy, and gets kids ready for resting.

Furthermore, reading to your child develops their language and literacy skills. We sometimes think of literacy as the capability of deciphering the graphemes, attaching the phonemes, and linking it into syntax. But, literacy begins well before letter-sound recognition and the other bits. Literacy begins when a baby identifies how to hold a book upright, when she discovers how to turn the pages from front to back. Children learn how to follow the story with the pictures, and they begin to understand that one idea is followed up by another en route to a conclusion. Following the oral story presented by the reader, with a pace that’s metered by the turning of the page, habituates emergent readers to the rules of books. By reading to the very young at bedtime, or preferably often throughout the day, they develop an expertise in the routines of literacy.

Once this foundation of literacy is established, the more technical work of word-literacy begins. And, conveniently for most children, that technical training corresponds with primary school. Teachers, any parent’s most commonly relied upon professionals, work their magic to transform non-readers into readers in those first few years of school. However, the success of student readers is not solely their domain. Which brings us back again to summer reading.

Read with your children as often as possible over the summer. If they can read or cannot, read to them. Modelling enthusiasm for books will make them enthusiastic about reading. Model inflection, and make the stories interesting. Ask questions, predict what might happen, offer ridiculous suggestions and see how the kids respond. If your child is already a reader, let them read to you, but don’t correct every mistake. If the meaning is still there—ignore it. No one, kids included, want to be constantly corrected. Don’t test them, don’t try them, just let them have fun with the new skill they’re building. If they’re having fun, they’ll want to continue and they’ll be on their way to developing a lifelong love of reading. And then, their teachers will love you too.

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