So when I had children it was with great delight that I began their lives as library patrons. We attended story time long before my oldest son was old enough to sit still. My three boys each got their own library cards as soon as they could sign their names. We regularly go and max out our limit of books with graphic novels, picture books, fiction and every book on whatever non-fiction topic they are interested in at any given moment. It is not surprising that every summer, as soon as the summer reading program is announced, my children are among the first to sign up.
So it is with some trepidation that I admit that I don't really like summer reading programs. I put them in the same category as reading logs or other means of keeping track of kids' reading. I understand why they exist, I really do. We have a real problem of children not reading over the summer. That becomes an bigger problem when it causes kids to fall behind over the summer, so that when school starts back in the fall, they are behind where they were at the end of the previous school year. This summer slide is well documented, and it affects lower income students more than it affects other kids. The infographic below from the National Summer Learning Association at Johns Hopkins University explains the problem much more succinctly than I ever could.
So many of the reading programs have prizes and rewards, which makes sense to me. Sort of. You see, once I start thinking about it, I find the ideas of stickers and pencils, or even a free book at the end, defeat the purpose. We want kids to find a love of reading, retain the skills they gained over the school year, and ultimately read for pleasure on their own. But we do it by telling them that if they do it they will get a reward. I sometimes give myself a reward for cleaning a bathroom, or dusting the 8,000 picture frames I have around my house. But those are chores that I hate, and need the promise of a cookie at the end to get me to even think about doing them. We can't simultaneously tell kids that reading is so great they should do it in their free time, and also tell them it is a chore that we will bribe them to do. My mom never gave me a treat to watch The Brady Bunch, yet I got a free pizza every time I finished five books.
Now that free pizza never diminished my love of reading, but it didn't help it either. When you are talking about kids who already struggling readers, or uninterested in reading for whatever reason, the summer reading programs that reward you for books read, or minutes logged are probably not the answer. I don't yet know what the answer is, but I want to spend some time figuring it out. If you have the answer, let me know. I would love to hear your thoughts, and I do know that summer learning loss is something we should all be thinking about how to stop.