February 25, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

Reading Is Fundamental Study Says Summer Reading Is Not Priority

RIF-logo-resizedJust 17 percent of parents believe reading should be a top priority during summer months, according to a new study from Reading Is Fundamental (RIF), sponsored by corporate partner Macy’s, which interviewed 1,014 parents with children between the ages of 5 and 11 years old who are enrolled in school.

Eighty-three percent of parents stated that it was “extremely/very important” for their child to read during the months away from school. But when asked where they prioritized reading against other activities, 49 percent stated that playing outside was the most important thing kids can do during those dog days, with just 17 percent who say that they think reading books is more important and “relax and take it easy” in third.

“That’s a one-third drop off from playing outside to reading,” says Judy Cheatham, vice-president of literacy services for RIF in Washington, DC. “The other thing is that there appears to be an ‘either or.’ We have so many people who don’t view reading as relaxing.”


Judy Cheatham, vice-president of literary services for RIF

Summer reading has long been a focus for RIF, says Cheatham, as the loss in learning that students experience during the summer has been a well-known problem for more than 100 years. Off from school, children slip in academics, with educators often having to repeat lessons for the first few months of school just to get students back to where they were before summer began. During the summer, children lose 2.6 months of grade level equivalency in math alone, according to RIF. But reading during the summer appears to have some affect on keeping students from sliding, at least on reading skills.

Reports, including “The Dominican Study” from 2009, show that students enrolled in public library reading programs performed higher on reading achievement test than those who did not participate. Organizations such as RIF, along with teachers and librarians, have long encouraged parents to enroll their children in reading programs over the summer or just bring them to their local library and get a book in their hands. One problem may be that children themselves may not value reading and understand the importance—or, more crucially, the pleasure—that can come from cracking open a book and letting an adventure begin.

The RIF study found that parents believe their child would likely rank reading as fourth on their list of what they wanted to do during the summer, behind playing outside, relaxing, and improving their athletic skills. Parents also didn’t seem to know the affect reading can have on their children’s academic skills, with just 39 percent stating they knew “their child loses reading skills over the summer,” while 61 percent disagreed with that statement.

Of the parents who had a child participate in a summer reading program, 91 percent said their child had read a book at least once a week, compared to just 71 percent of parents who did not have their children enrolled in a program, but still found their child reading a book every week. And children who participated in a reading program were twice as likely to read every day as those who had not participated.

Cheatham believes that parents sometimes need some encouragement as well, as many may not be aware of what activities and services the local library can offer their children. Cheatham also says that parents may feel a little uncomfortable walking into a branch and figuring out what they and their young students need.

“Some people are overwhelmed by the library,” says Cheatham, who is a former-college professor who taught linguistics, language arts, and family literacy to student teachers before joining RIF. “But I suggest they put three or four books on a table and let their child choose. Or make friends with their local children’s librarian. Summer reading opens up the world, and it can make such a difference in the life of a child.”

Lauren Barack About Lauren Barack

School Library Journal contributing editor Lauren Barack writes about the connection between media and education, business, and technology. A recipient of the Loeb Award for online journalism, she can be found at www.laurenbarack.com.