Yes, I admit it! I’m obsessed with education. If you follow my blog posts you already know this about me. I’m deeply alarmed by the current downward trajectory of childhood literacy in the United States. Statistics recently released from U.S. Department of Education are not encouraging. In the media rich world we live in, reading is losing ground everywhere as kids migrate toward other entertainments. As writers we are the elite of literacy. We have an obligation to help educators turn back the rising tide. With summer rapidly approaching this is the ideal time for our community to get involved. Remember, kids who don’t read all summer can lose up to 3 months of reading progress. Let’s put the brakes on reading decline. The stakes are too high for anything less than our full efforts. Reach out to your local library. Many children’s librarians have programs planned this summer. They may be in dire need of extra hands. Go ask! Become a reading coach. Or offer to type up some grade level book recommendation lists. Help them with an event. If you have the time, get involved. If you have a teen reader, sign them up too. Librarians are on the front lines of this battle all year long, but during summer is when they get the chance to do even more. Please support them in whatever way you can, even if it’s just a small donation to their summer reading program coffers.
I know not everyone can volunteer, especially if your own kids are younger and at home for the summer. So here are a few of my mom-approved tips for making literacy improvement a big part of your summer holiday.
1. Organize treasure and scavenger hunts:
Kids love these, and you can gear them for any reading level. I taught my kids the ABCs by hiding them inside plastic Easter eggs. I did the same with the Dolch sight words, and later moved to hunt clues. Soon my eldest was writing the clues to find. Throw the hunt in the front yard while other kids are around, and encourage everyone to play. Don’t restrict yourself to the ordinary. Throw items in the pool and make the kids recover the items listed on the slips of paper they draw out of a hat. Please make sure the items are pool safe. Or sink plastic letters in a bowl of shaving cream for some messy preschool entertainment.
2. Have the kids make lists:
Every summer my kids make their “To Do List” of all the fun things they want to do over the summer. I’ll help with the spelling, (if they ask) but that’s it. We post these lists, and the kids check off the items as they accomplish them. The fun stuff they want to do can be pretty ordinary, like eat a whole jar of hot fudge. I negotiated that down to a less gut-busting wish. Or something huge, like a Legoland trip. The point is not to do everything on the list, but to have big dreams, and of course to write out the list. Sneaky old mom. I have the kids write out special occasion meal plans, like for trips, BBQ’s, and parties. I’ll resort to any means to keep a pencil in their hands while school is out. Whenever my kids come to me with: “Mom can we….” I don’t say yes or no, I say: “Write it on the list.”
3. Post a goal chart and give prizes:
We always have a summer literacy goal chart, and it always includes tons of small prizes to win, and a big prize they can earn at the end of the summer if they knock off most of their goals. I create the goals realistically, striving for some skill-building, but mostly just for practice. My kid’s early charts kept track of the words they learned to read. They won a small prize each time they learned 10 new words. We moved up to: read a book- get prize. Write a letter- get a prize. Write a story- get a prize. Every year the stakes go up. Last summer my eldest had to write a 50+ page story to get his big prize, and he got it.
4. Book Clubs are for everyone:
Most kids don’t want to sit around talking about a book, but they love the idea of being part of a secret club. So throw a book themed party. Match everything to one popular book, the decorations, the food, have them play games and/or make crafts that fit the book. Don’t expect every kid to know the book you’ve chosen, but make the party a blast and chances are they’ll want to read that book ASAP. I know this sounds like a lot of work, but make the kids help. They can read cookbooks for cool food ideas. Or have them pull quotes from the book to use in a pin the quote on the character game. My kids love book themed parties. These were super popular a few years ago when everyone wanted a Potter Party. They have since died off, but I say bring them back. Great books should have fan clubs.
5. Make time for tabletop games:
I’m a huge family game night person. I always make sure the kids take an active role in reading the rules and keeping track of scores. There are tons of high literacy games, Trivial Pursuit, Beat the Parents, Boggle, Scrabble and Hangman. We also like cooperative games, Castle Panic is a favorite. Not as much reading involved in this game, but the core values of teamwork more than make up for it. Or invite the local kids in and have a contest to make up their own games. Offer a prize to every participant. Writing down the rules is great penmanship practice.
Remember it must be fun! I can’t stress this enough. Show kids that being a reader is a gateway to new adventures and tons of summer excitement.
I’d love to hear from you. What are you planning in the way of summer reading challenges or incentives? Please share your ideas. Working together is our best hope of curbing this sad tread in declining literacy.