How educators can strengthen summer reading connections with families

More than 90% of parents of school children agree that reading during the summer will help their child during the school year.
Amanda Alexander
Amanda Alexander
Amanda Alexander is the chief academic officer at Scholastic Education Solutions. She has direct oversight of the Education Solutions’ Research & Validation and Professional Learning teams. She and her team focus on professional learning offerings for educators, ensuring the efficacy of the division’s educational products, and advancing research to inform both product development as well as the broader industry to help improve academic and social emotional outcomes for all children.

There’s no denying that educators and families alike have a long list of commitments and priorities, making it hard to keep up—so how do we keep summer reading at the top of that priority list? When we are talking about literacy, we want to make supporting kids accessible, not additional.

Literacy skills are paramount for kids to grow both academically and emotionally and the research has shown us, time and time again, that reading over the summer helps students in the following school year. This is even more important given the recent research around how school disruptions, caused by the pandemic, have millions of children playing catch up, and because children’s participation in competing priorities only grows as they age.

The 8th edition of the Scholastic Kids & Family Reading Report—the latest of the national survey that began in 2006—helps make the connections needed between schools and families to support summer reading success for more kids.

Give families more information about summer reading

More than 90% of parents of school children—across ages 6-17, racial backgrounds, and areas of the country—agree that reading during the summer will help their child during the school year. This is great news! At the same time, far fewer parents know “why” summer reading is important.

Only half of parents (52%) are aware of the loss of skills during the months that school is out, which has historically been discussed as the “summer slide.” Decades of research confirm that children lose, on average, one month of instructional knowledge over the summer break. Accumulated over time, children in middle school who have experienced summer learning loss may have lost as much as two years of reading achievement.

Interestingly enough, parents’ awareness of summer reading has not changed since the last survey in 2018. Arguably, a great deal has shifted in the hearts and minds of those parenting children during the pandemic so it’s assuring that summer reading is still on parents’ minds. It is our belief that if schools and partners help to educate more families about the WHY of the importance of summer reading, more children will benefit.

As the data also shows, parents of frequent readers are more likely to be aware of the summer slide than parents of moderately frequent or infrequent readers (59% vs. 52% and 46%). Parents of younger children, age 6-11, are also more likely to be aware than parents of older children, age 12-17 (58% vs. 45%). It stands to reason that if parents are unaware of the potential for learning loss, it is also less likely that they will take action to guard against it. Together, we can bridge that gap.

Send home books and resources

The Kids & Family Reading Report shares guidance on how to help families support their children’s literacy this summer—and all year—through resources.

First and foremost, children need the adults in their lives to be thoughtful about book access. Children rely heavily on school for access to books. More than 40% of kids say they get most of the books they read for fun from their school or classroom library. When schools are closed for the summer, a primary source of books is no longer available to children, making access to books at home more critical.

Access to books at home has been a persistent issue documented by the Kids & Family Reading Report since 2012. Among those surveyed in 2022, 43% of families with children ages 6-17 have fewer than 50 books for kids at home. Those who have fewer books at home are more likely to be Black or Hispanic families and families with less education and lower income. Given that access to books is crucial in combating reading loss during the summer months, bringing more books into the home will ensure these demographics are not more impacted by learning loss than others.

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The benefits of home libraries for students are irrefutable, but they can be supercharged if parents are offered training and support to enhance and encourage student learning. Parents tell us it would be helpful to have support for skill-building around what their child is reading. Items that parents indicated would be helpful include:

  • Questions or conversation starters about the reading (36%)
  • A summary of the book or story (35%)
  • Recommendations for the best next book (31%)
  • Activities that go along with the reading (30%)
  • A list of vocabulary words in the reading (26%)
  • A summary of how the reading helps development, such as rhyming words for young readers, simple sentences for early readers and important themes for teen readers (17%).

Half of parents (51%) indicate they want more than just one type of resource with as many as one in 10 looking for four or more types. Parents of children ages 6-11 are particularly likely to want multiple resources, with six in 10 parents (61%) indicating that more than one support resource would be helpful. This data is strengthened by other academic findings that show how comprehension strategies, when provided to families, can maximize the effects of home libraries and summer reading.

Tap into kids’ interests for success

More great news, the data also tells us that kids are already primed to read and just need our help to keep their spark engaged. The study shows 80% of school-aged children agree that reading books during the summer will help them during the school year. What’s more, 61% of school-aged children enjoy summer reading, with younger children ages 6-11 more likely to say they enjoy summer reading than older children ages 12-17 (68% vs. 55%). So let’s lean into what keeps their interests in reading.

Perhaps most important, is choice. Every year we have conducted the survey, kids remind us how important it is for them to be able to personally select their own books. Over 90% of kids agree that:

  1. Their favorite books are the ones they pick out themselves (93%)
  2. They are most likely to finish the books they pick out themselves (92%)

We know children are more likely to read the books they choose on their own, and with a vast variety of genres and formats available, their individual preferences can be the key to supporting their year-long reading habits. Chapter books and picture/story books are the most popular types of books among kids, but children are increasingly interested in graphic novels and comic books.

In 2022, 37% of children said that graphic novels are one of their favorite types of books, an increase of 15 percentage points from 2018 (22%). Interest in graphic novels has increased across all age groups, but particularly among 9- to 11-year-olds. In 2018, 27% of that group liked reading graphic novels, in 2022 that number rose to 50%. Interest in comic books and picture books has also increased, although not as dramatically. Furthermore, children are interested in both fiction and nonfiction – half of kids (48%) say they like fiction and nonfiction the same.

Finally, bring the community together to make summer reading exciting. Half of kids (52%) say “I like going to events that involve reading at my school or in my community.” Creating a social environment around reading, bringing a variety of selections to them and allowing children to choose books to read during the summer may encourage more children to read and enjoy reading for fun!

Let’s help families make summer reading happen

Parents and children alike know that reading during the summer will be helpful during the school year, and many children enjoy reading books for fun during the summer. However, there is still work to be done around parental awareness of why summer reading is important, particularly among groups with lower socioeconomic status.

And kids are providing us with helpful hints on how to keep them engaged. By providing families with the books and opportunities to engage around stories with concrete strategies, we will all be contributing to higher summer reading rates to maintain and accelerate student achievement.

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