Delia Pompa: Why is summer reading so important? How can we help keep children reading during those vacation months? I’m Delia Pompa. Please join me for our next Reading Rockets Webcast, Summer Reading.
Narrator: Funding for the Reading Rockets Webcast Series is provided by the United States Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs.
Delia Pompa: Hello. I’m Delia Pompa. Welcome to the Reading Rockets Webcast Series. Today we’re going to talk with two top experts about summer reading.
Joining me we have Ron Fairchild. He’s the Executive Director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Learning and a faculty member at Johns Hopkins University, School of Education.
Dr. Loriene Roy is President of the American Library Association. She also founded and directs “If I Can Read I Can Do Anything,” a national reading club for native children. I’d also like to welcome our studio audience of educators and parents. Near the end of the show they’ll share their own questions for our guests. Thank you all for joining us.
Ron, tell us about summer, what it looks like for kids these days. How does reading fit into that? And I’m guessing that sort of varies across families and socioeconomic groups.
Ron Fairchild: Absolutely. I think most of us have a really wonderful image of what summer is all about. It’s a time for something different, a time for recreation, a time for vacations and for creative exploration.
And, unfortunately, the reality for many young people and for many families in this country is very different from that image. And so we see summer increasingly as a time when many families are really struggling to find adequate childcare, opportunities for education and for enrichment.
Delia Pompa: So what’s the effect of spending your summer going to space camp and traveling as opposed to sitting home watching TV?
Ron Fairchild: Well, research consistently shows that young people who are engaged in constructive learning activities - like that wonderful example of space camp - kids that are engaged in those kinds of activities go back to the school in the fall ready to learn, ready to succeed. And, unfortunately, kids who don’t have access to those kinds of opportunities don’t have the same advantages when they go back to school in the fall.
Delia Pompa: You know, people are shocked, I think, when they find out the impact a summer loss can have. Has… Summer loss is a term that might be new to some people. Has it always existed?
Ron Fairchild: Well, the first study that was ever conducted on this pattern of seasonal learning differences and the summer setback was actually conducted in 1906.
Delia Pompa: Oh, I guess people do know about it.
Ron Fairchild: So I think the research community certainly knows about it. But I don’t think it’s widely known and widely accepted, despite the fact that this research has existed for over a hundred years. So I think that there’s a real opportunity to raise awareness about this issue
Delia Pompa: Well, how much reading ability do kids really stand to lose over the summer and how does that impact learning in the classroom?
Ron Fairchild: Well, research shows that all young people are at risk of experiencing some kind of educational setback during the summer months, especially in the area of math. That’s true for everybody.
In the area of reading it’s really interesting to look at the research findings. Kids in high poverty communities consistently lose over two months of reading performance each and every summer of their elementary school years. And those losses accumulate over time.
Delia Pompa: Can you talk a little bit about the achievement gap and how summer loss affects that achievement gap?
Ron Fairchild: Well, the achievement gap generally refers to differences in academic performance between groups of kids based on family income or some other characteristic. And what we see and-when we look at the summer pattern and summer learning loss is that kids from low income communities have this setback of over two months every year of their elementary school years. And those losses accumulate. So that these early differences in summer learning really account for a staggering amount of the growth in the achievement gap between kids based on income. In fact, researchers have traced that achievement gaps’ growth in reading performance of close to two and a half years by the time kids get to middle school. So there’s a really significant…
Delia Pompa: So it’s cumulative over the years.
Ron Fairchild: It’s cumulative over the years and ultimately when this… A new study that was just released this past year looked at incoming 9th graders and they were able to track and trace back to elementary school differences in summer learning. Summer learning opportunities really accounted for a significant difference in 9th grade incoming reading achievement scores.
Delia Pompa: Can you talk a little bit about that gap and why there is that difference, what the research shows about that?
Ron Fairchild: I think what the research shows is that some families, particularly middle and upper income families, have access to all kinds of enrichment opportunities. They regularly send their kids to camps and participate in all kinds of enrichment experiences. Whereas lower income families don’t have the same kind of access to choices and to opportunities over the summer months. So we think it’s critical that public libraries and other public agencies and camps and nonprofits really provide those opportunities and give more working families the choices and opportunities that they need for their kids.
Delia Pompa: So as educators we need to step in.
Ron Fairchild: We absolutely do, I think. Unfortunately, there are all kinds of resources in a faucet that shuts off for kids during the summer and there aren’t the same kind of guarantees during the summer months for education, for meals, for opportunities for physical activities and those kinds of things that occur during the school year. A lot of that stuff shuts down for kids during the summer so we need to figure out ways to turn that back on.
Delia Pompa: So it sounds like it’s the whole experience of school. We’ve been talking about kids who are in school and the loss from year to year or grade to grade. What about preschoolers and kindergartners? They don’t yet have the summer loss because they haven’t been in school, but what can parents do to prepare them?
Ron Fairchild: I think we should all be looking at ways to accelerate learning for young people regardless of where they are in terms of whether they’re preschool, first grade, second grade. I will say for preschool and for kindergarten age young people it’s particularly important for emerging readers to continue to be exposed to books, to literacy skills and all of those kinds of things that we would want them to be exposed to during the regular school year. Continue that stuff during the summer.
Delia Pompa: Well, when you think about… We just talked about at-risk students or low income students and what they stand to lose cumulatively in their school experience through summer loss. What activities are there for these kids out there right now?
Ron Fairchild: Well, there are a range of activities that are available, everything from school-based summer academic support kinds of programs to camps to community-based organizations that offer these kinds of summer experiences for kids. And I’m so glad that we’re going to be talking about public libraries and their role in all of this because I think they do play a really critical and very important role in this.
Delia Pompa: A huge role. What can a teacher do before school is out, before kids leave for the summer to sort of mitigate that summer loss?
Ron Fairchild: I think it’s a great idea before the school year ends is to have parent/teacher conferences around the theme of what parents can do during the summer to support their kids’ learning and their education. That’s one concrete example.
I think make sure that - if you have a group of young people who are going from second grade to third grade - that you preview some of those concepts, provide materials and lists of things that parents can use during the summer as well.
Delia Pompa: Now I just want to push you a little bit, because I know we put a lot on parents these days. We’ve actually had part of this series focus on parents and reading. I’m wondering, beyond the lists and the sort of standard things that teachers give parents to do over the summer, are there other things that they can talk to parents about…
Ron Fairchild: Right.
Delia Pompa: … that they can do?
Ron Fairchild: Well, as a father of two young boys, I certainly understand and can empathize with how much parents have on their plates right now and how busy we all are. But at the same time I think we owe it to our kids to figure out some really common sense and easy ways to integrate reading, to integrate math into our everyday lives.
And so if you’re taking a trip this summer, think about ways to read about that summer vacation in advance, preview some of the places that you’re going to go, reinforce the concepts and the ideas that you see.
And so rather than thinking about this as yet another thing that I have to do to “inoculate” my students against summer learning loss, let’s think about some creative and fun and engaging ways to integrate reading and literacy into our everyday lives. So we’re talking about what’s happening in the news, we’re going places and we’re sort of seamlessly folding this into our lives, into our parenting skills.
Delia Pompa: Well, on that note, I mean, we’re talking about reading loss, but is it possible that there could be a gain over the summer?
Ron Fairchild: Absolutely. I think, you know, the best programs that I’ve seen out there aren’t satisfied with just preventing summer learning loss, they’re actually accelerating reading performance for young people and giving them the kinds of opportunities to develop new talents and new skills that are really going to propel them forward. So it’s much less about prevention and more about acceleration.
Delia Pompa: So we can turn that potential loss into a time that kids really, really can gain a lot.
Ron Fairchild: Absolutely.
Delia Pompa: Dr. Roy, you work with lots of schools and libraries. What do you feel are some of the barriers to kids keeping up their reading over the summer, and how can the libraries help to overcome those barriers?
Dr. Loriene Roy: Well, Ron talked about having a fun activity support reading over the summer. Over 95 percent of public libraries offer summer reading programs. So they are ideal locations, venues for children and their families to continue their reading habits through the summer months.
Delia Pompa: Well, let me call you Loriene. Loriene, what about reading incentive programs? I know in the summer lots of libraries have those. What does a good reading incentive program look like and what are some characteristics that we should look for?
Dr. Loriene Roy: They’re also popular… Reading incentive programs are also popular through the school year. As part of public library summer reading programs, these provide little encouragements for children to continue their reading habits whether the incentives are little gifts, whether they are events and just recognition of the child as a continuing reader is probably the best incentive.
Delia Pompa: Are there “dos and don’ts” for librarians and teachers if they implement an incentive program?
Dr. Loriene Roy: Well, I think librarians gather together and create these summer reading manuals and they provide ideas for what you can do during programs. I think the dos and don’ts relate to recognizing children perhaps for the amount of time they read rather than volume of books in some cases so that children can choose the thicker book over the thinner book sometimes. So in many cases the do’s and don’ts are played out in, you know, what works and what is successful with that local community and the children they serve.
Delia Pompa: So it’s very much tied to what the kids in that community appreciate, I guess.
Dr. Loriene Roy: That’s right.
Delia Pompa: Ron, what does the research tell us about incentive programs?
Ron Fairchild: Well, I think incentive programs can play a pretty powerful role in getting kids motivated and excited and interested and engaging in reading over the summer. But I think the one thing to keep in mind is that there’s this interesting… I think in the research it says there’s a difference between internal and intrinsic motivation and-versus external and extrinsic motivation. And so one caution - I think that we all as educators and as librarians should sort of pay attention to - is we want kids to be reading because they love what they’re reading and they’re interested in what they’re reading.
And sometimes it takes some incentives and some material rewards to get them over that initial resistance. But hopefully we’re moving them in the direction that they’ll be intrinsically motivated, excited and interested in reading because it’s what they really want to do in the end.
Delia Pompa: In addition to libraries are there other community resources we should consider in looking at how you keep reading up over the summer?
Ron Fairchild: I think there are a range of community organizations, certainly faith-based organizations, community-based, nonprofit organizations. Many cities have Department of Recreation and Parks programs that run during the summer months. All of those entities can play a really important role in addition to the arts and cultural institutions and other things that are there.
I think as a community we need to come together at the local level to say what are all the assets that we have in a city or in a community and how do we make sure that we make sure that our families and our children have access to those things during the summer.
Delia Pompa: So it’s about learning in the summer. Loriene, in addition to books, which is what we think of when we think of libraries, what other resources do libraries have and, you know, how does this help get books and reading into the hands and minds of kids over the summer?
Dr. Loriene Roy: Well, another great resource are audio books. And especially if families are planning those road trips, to have the children surrounded by words is a wonderful attribute, a wonderful gift to give. And the families can listen to those all together.
Delia Pompa: Thank you both. Now we’re going to visit a library in Georgia where one mom and son are learning how to find just the right book.
Video: Finding the Right Book (Tifton, GA)
Narrator: Eight year old TJ has quite a line up for this Saturday. The playground is only the first stop in his mother Andrea’s plans.
Andrea: Oh, I’ve got a day planned out real nice. Okay, TJ, it’s time to go to the library. And after we leave the park, you know, we’re gonna go to the library and look up T-Rex dinosaurs.
Narrator: The library is the perfect place to feed TJ’s growing appetite for information, especially about dinosaurs.
Andrea: Oh, my you just - if you just say dinosaur, TJ is just like - lights up. ‘Momma, we want to learn more about the Rex. We’ve got to, we’ve got to, we’ve got to.’ You know, there’s other dinosaurs, but T-Rex just kind of stands out.
Narrator: Andrea’s figured out that what makes these trips fun for TJ is letting him pick his topics and direct his own search. When a kid is excited about learning, a library can be fully as much fun as a playground. In fact, it’s a playground that no one outgrows. The first quest on TJ’s dinosaur hunt is not for a book but for a computer.
Carole Fiore: With the advent of the internet the role of libraries has changed significantly. Rather than just being a library that’s contained within four walls and building, it’s more a library beyond the walls. People can access our collections over the internet while they are at home, at school. It’s not just that you have to go to the library anymore.
Narrator: TJ also loves good old fashioned books, and here he’ll find volumes about the creatures that fire his imagination.
TJ: I like T-Rex, and long necks, and all that kind of stuff. I like to read about cheetahs, snakes, jaguars, or a coyote, a tiger.
Narrator: Libraries allow kids to explore topics beyond their immediate experience and to push themselves with challenging books.
J. Sara Paulk: Andrea’s approach is very supportive and very positive. She gives him freedom to pick out things, and that’s real important with children. It’s important for them to pick out things that look interesting and fun and sometimes that are too difficult for them to read because it’s very necessary for adults to read with children. Even after a child can read on their own, they still have a lot of room to grow in their vocabulary.
Phyllis Hunter: A visit to the library before the age of six is a life-changing event. Research has been done to show that children who visit the library before they enter school begin to think of themselves as readers and to being to think positively about books.
Narrator: TJ’s quest has been a success. The books he’s found today will introduce him to new animals that will, in his mind’s eye, challenge the mighty T-Rex.
Delia Pompa: Loriene, in that piece TJ’s mom let him find and choose the book he wanted and the book he was interested in. But if parents are concerned about keeping their kids on track, wouldn’t it be important for parents to make sure that they’re picking the right kinds of books or certain books?
Dr. Loriene Roy: I think we all know someone who lives dinosaurs, so I love this clip. Children will naturally head toward areas and subjects/topics that interest them, and if parents are concerned about finding the right books, the librarians are the best assistance in locating the titles. There are often grade reading lists. The American Library Association has, through its numerous committees and divisions, librarians who work throughout the year developing suggestions for parents and children.
Delia Pompa: In addition to lists, are there other roles librarians can play in helping parents make sure their kids are reading the right books and the books that are helpful to them?
Dr. Loriene Roy: Well, one-on-one guidance, reader’s advisory, pointing out great websites… Again, ALA has a great website with more than 500 resources pointing out electronic resources that are free to all families such as the International Children’s Digital Library that’s digitizing hundreds of children’s books from around the world.
Delia Pompa: Wow! A lot of schools have reading lists or required reading lists or suggested reading lists. How does this play into the whole process of choosing books in the library and the scenario of the librarian helping the parent?
Dr. Loriene Roy: I think librarians are drawn to the field in large part to help people find a good book to read. In fact, that’s still the main reason why people go to libraries, finding a good book to read. But that’s just the first part. As people can start then to discover their own personal tastes, the families can read things together and that people can engage in conversation about books that they’ve enjoyed together as well.
Delia Pompa: You know, I’ve seen some kids that just aren’t interested in anything you suggest, and maybe I don’t know if they’re afraid of reading or what the problem is, but what’s the next step in keeping that child on track if you can’t seem to find an interest that that child might have in a kind of book?
Dr. Loriene Roy: Well, sometimes it’s a matter of an adult having a formulated response and then becoming aware of the child’s own interests. Graphic novels, for example, are very popular. In fact, last year the Printz Award was given to a graphic novel called American Born Chinese. So children can look at the images. My son at a very early age read Shakespeare, and he couldn’t read the words. But he could follow the pictures in the story through graphic novels
Delia Pompa: You know, in that piece, one of the persons talked about helping kids think of themselves as readers. How does summer reading play into that important notion that kids need to have, that self-image?
Dr. Loriene Roy: Well, children will model what the adults near them will do. And so if they see adults picking up books, reading things naturally, having a book handed to them while they’re waiting in line, reading then becomes just part of everyday life and a natural occupation.
Delia Pompa: You know, unfortunately, for a lot of families, access to books is a big issue. There is… Sometimes there isn’t a public library nearby. You know, what can we do to improve access to reading and to help parents find these reading materials if there isn’t something very simple like a library right there for them?
Dr. Loriene Roy: Sometimes the barriers to actually using libraries is just becoming aware that parents should-need to be helped to become aware that these institutions exist. It may not be part of a family’s history and pattern of using a library. There are other resources, communities still have book mobiles that deliver resources outside of the four walls of the building.
Delia Pompa: I was going to ask you about that. I remember the book mobile coming by.
Well, how… I don’t know that parents and teachers often find a way to establish a relationship with a librarian to get this kind of work done. What are steps they might take to establish this relationship and to help kids weave reading into their summer months?
Dr. Loriene Roy: I think it’s long been a challenge for public librarians and school librarians to communicate with each other. And as children approach that transition to summer, families approaching that school librarian asking what the public library is doing, the public librarian letting the school know what the plans are for the summer, what the theme is for that year’s summer reading program, would all be useful things to do.
Delia Pompa: Ron, what should parents keep in mind if they really, really want to encourage their child to read?
Ron Fairchild: I think what Dr. Roy said about making sure that you tap into the interests, the motivation of what your kids actually like and want to be able to do, I think, is probably the most important thing. I think making sure that you understand what their interests are and surrounding them with resources, whether that’s reading material or other things during the summer, to help them get inspired and interested in that.
I had a real penchant for science when I was a kid and so I remember well a science camp that I did when I was coming out of 5th grade. And that one week learning about electricity at the Science Center really got me excited about science. I didn’t end up becoming a doctor which was what I thought I was going to do when I was in 5th grade, but those kinds of experiences in figuring out ways to really take what your children are really expressing as their interests and then connecting them to resources in the community, I think, is really the most important thing that parents can keep in mind.
Delia Pompa: Well, we’re glad you became a summer reading expert and not a doctor.
Ron Fairchild: Well, there you go. [LAUGHTER]
Delia Pompa: But, you know, we talk about these summer experiences a lot all the time. We talk about camps and, you know, clubs and things kids should do and take trips to museums and, you know, take trips across the country, but a lot of families just don’t have the funds or the time to do that with their kids.
Ron Fairchild: That’s right.
Delia Pompa: How can parents sort of make up for that? How can they perhaps, if not replicate these experiences, give their kids that background information other kids get from those experiences?
Ron Fairchild: I think it’s really important that parents, regardless of where they fall on the income spectrum… I mean, there are camps and educational opportunities that range from free to very costly, so there are opportunities, I think, in every budget range.
I think it’s really critical and very important for parents to figure out ways to make this fun and engaging, and take advantage of the public library. Look for programs that will provide childcare over the summer but also ask staff at those childcare providers what kind of learning experiences kids are going to have access to. It may be something as simple as having a little reading club and reading books together. And those are kinds of activities that any camp, any childcare environment could pretty easily and seamlessly fold into their day.
And I think as parents when we’re looking at what kind of experiences our kids need to get, they need a balance. They need these programs to do a lot of different things.
Dr. Loriene Roy: It reminds me of a summer reading program that’s offered in Austin, Texas, at one of our branch libraries, the Milwood Branch, and it’s a mother and daughter reading camp during the summer.
Delia Pompa: There are a lot of options. Thanks. In this next video clip we’ll visit Washington, D.C. where librarian Laura Kleinmann has focused on making her library a welcoming one for all her students.
Video: A Welcoming Library (Washington, D.C.)
Narrator: Back at Oyster Bilingual School, there’s a place where kids can go to put it all together, everything they’ve learned about phonics, vocabulary and comprehension.
Laura Kleinmann: Some people call the library the heart of the school. It’s a place that’s different than the classroom, than the hallway, than the soccer field. It’s a place that’s just dedicated to reading. The minute that the children see me, they identify me with what they’re reading: “Ms. Kleinmann, Ms. Kleinmann, I just finished reading my Harry Potter.” You know, “Señora Kleinmann, Señora Kleinmann, ya terminé de leer …” yaddada.
Narrator: Our young poets have traveled across the hall to visit with librarian Laura Kleinmann and to check out some new books.
Laura Kleinmann: Ah, Andrea, es uno de mis libros favoritos, Una Biblioteca Para Juana …
Laura Kleinmann: At Oyster, we have a bilingual program. Our children learn to read and write and to speak and listen in Spanish and English from the time they arrive in pre-kindergarten.
Learning to read is not easy. It’s especially not easy when you’re learning to read in your second language. Libraries, they’re filled with exciting books, are a great motivator for children. It’s the place where the world opens up to them. And hopefully it will open up to them in both languages.
Narrator: Of course, most American schools are not bilingual but many do have children whose first language is not English, and that presents an opportunity for a librarian.
Laura Kleinmann: Imagine how you would feel. You’re walking into school where the words around you are unintelligible because you’ve only heard your family’s native language. And you come to the library and you see a book in your own language. I think that that could change a child’s perspective on school and make a child maybe wake up and want to come to school in the morning.
Narrator: And the benefits can be carried home in a backpack.
Laura Kleinmann: They can take books home that they can share with their parents and their aunts and uncles and grandparents and say, you know, “Mira, Mamá un libro en español!” And the parent feels like, wow, the school is valuing my culture, the school is valuing my language. The library is a perfect place to make that bridge, even if the school isn’t bilingual.
Delia Pompa: Loriene, this must be right up your alley. Librarians… That librarian got so excited talking about books and talking to the kids. That must be what you do when you’re back home.
But I wondered, this is a library in a bilingual school. How can neighborhood libraries reach out to folks in that neighborhood and community who don’t speak English and who are English language learners?
Dr. Loriene Roy: The end reminds me of some things that libraries do really, really well. Every year over 400 libraries in the U.S. are part of El día de los niños/ El día de los libros around the end of April, although the founder, Pat Mora, reminds us that everyday is book day. And that’s a wonderful day to celebrate bilingual reading, especially reading for children.
And so one way that libraries can help and support bilingual reading is by hosting events, developing collections. Librarians, supported through the American Library Association, attend the Guadalajara Book Festival every November and through that connection acquire materials that may be hard to obtain here north of the border. These are materials not only published in Mexico but also in South America. So libraries are very interested in not only developing the collections but the programs and approaching and supporting the languages of all the home cultures that they serve.
Delia Pompa: I know the American Library Association has a special subgroup who focuses on bilingual learners, if I’m not mistaken. What do they and you think is important to help children who are English language learners over the summer? They must face some very special challenges.
Dr. Loriene Roy: Well, there are a number of units in ALA or affiliated with ALA such as REFORMA - Library Services for Latinos and Hispanic Speaking. ALA just released a study at the end of March looking at library services for non-English speaking patrons. And one thing that they found is they did look at barriers, they did look at successes.
The most common services are [sic] ESL classes. But looking at barriers to family use of libraries, especially non-English speaking families, the largest barriers are just having a tradition of reading and literacy within the home and then just general awareness of what the library can provide is a second barrier.
Delia Pompa: You know, a lot of parents who don’t speak English, are not native English speakers, feel uncomfortable when it comes to reading, and their children are teaching them to read. How can they encourage their own kids to read during the summer and to be readers?
Dr. Loriene Roy: That’s a good question. I work with a lot of native communities who speak a variety of languages. I’ve never met a parent who didn’t want his or her child to read well regardless in English and in their native language. Again, serving as role models for the children, encouraging them, making sure that they see the mom and the dad and the other relatives reading and having literature around.
Delia Pompa: You know, this is a question people ask all the time; it’s a question I definitely have an opinion on. But I want to know what you think about whether parents should encourage their kids to read in their native language or in English or in both or does it matter.
Dr. Loriene Roy: Well, I think people who can speak more than one language have those advantages throughout life. In my own family I’m an Anishinabi. I’m Ojibwe Indian from Minnesota. And while I know words, I think as an adult I’ve missed the opportunity because my parents chose not to help us learn the language. There are many reasons for that. It was a matter of survival years and years ago.
And so, encouraging a second language is so tied to identity, it’s tied to how we introduce ourselves. I have to introduce myself in short paragraphs, short sentences in my native language. Making sure that children feel that they are represented in the library through the books and through the programs is very important.
Delia Pompa: You’ve done something very special for your community and I think for all the communities. You’ve established this “If I Can Read, I Can Do Anything” program. Why did you do it? What prompted you?
Dr. Loriene Roy: We had an opportunity - again, I’m a professor in the School of Information at the University of Texas at Austin, and my students and I had an opportunity through a past ALA president - to run a demonstration project and to include librarians serving native kids at tribal schools. And we found what they wanted were ideas on how to promote reading as a leisure activity for life. And so we helped build collections, helped plan events like family reading nights and serve as a connection for many of those schools.
Delia Pompa: Let’s go from that to talking about summer programs because there are a lot of those, and I imagining yours is a year-round program. But we have special summer programs. What kind of a student, Ron, benefits from those mostly?
Ron Fairchild: Oh, I think all students would benefit from the kinds of experiences that we’ve been talking about today. Clearly, there are some families who can provide those experiences more easily than others. We think it’s absolutely critical that kids… that a high priority be placed on making sure that kids in high poverty communities have access to the same kinds of enrichment, the same kinds of wonderful learning experiences that we’ve been talking about today that many kids get as a matter of course.
Delia Pompa: How does a summer program compare with a summer school program? Is there a difference?
Ron Fairchild: Well, I think many of us probably have a very negative view of what summer school looks like. I think that’s rooted in this idea that summer school is this punitive, remedial model of programming where kids have to be there, where they don’t want to be. And what we think is really exciting and interesting when we look out into the community and into the field of summer programming more broadly, is a lot of people are starting to think that that model isn’t really what’s going to get us where we need to go with respect to solving this problem of a summer opportunity gap and the resource gap that we’ve been talking about today.
So we see a lot more school districts redesigning their summer programs, making them summer learning opportunities. And they’re partnering with nonprofits, YMCAs, Boys and Girls Clubs, other entities, public libraries, to come in and add resources to what used to be a very small two hour/three hour summer school program. It’s now slowing becoming more of a six hour/full day, four to six weeks summer program opportunity. And we think that’s a really significant shift and I think could really go a long way toward addressing this problem.
Delia Pompa: Give us an example of a very good summer program.
Ron Fairchild: I think the best one that I had an opportunity to visit this past summer was a program called “Harlem RBI”, and they’re based in New York City. And when I got there, young people were pouring out of the apartments in baseball uniforms -boys and girls, co-ed baseball and softball…
And they didn’t go straight to the baseball fields or the softball fields; they went into classrooms first. As teams, they did literacy activities, hands-on learning opportunities for the whole morning of the program, and then in the afternoon they went out on the baseball fields and learned baseball and softball.
And I thought, well, what could be more American than learning baseball during the summer and having fun outside playing, but at the same time spending three or four hours of doing intensive academic and all kinds of really enriched learning experiences where they’re exposed to books.
And I think if we could provide those kinds of opportunities to every child in this country, I think we would go far. It’d be an amazing kind of vision that we could achieve during the summer in terms of transforming this, making real the promise of this enriching summer ideal that a lot of people have in their minds.
Delia Pompa: Are there a lot of these good summer programs?
Ron Fairchild: Well, unfortunately, that’s a program that serves only a few hundred kids. And so I think we have these islands of excellence, these programs that are really doing a fabulous job serving a few hundred, a thousand, a couple thousand. But we have yet to get to scale with those.
And I think a lot of that is the function of the resources just not being there at the federal, state and local level to really fund this time of year and these kinds of program opportunities for kids who need em the most.
Delia Pompa: Well, given that there aren’t that many, how can parents find out about the ones that are there?
Ron Fairchild: Well, I think the best resources that parents have at their fingertips and that they have at their disposal, certainly starting with the school, asking teachers and principals. They often have a best… the finger on the pulse of what’s happening in the community.
There are a lot of directories that get published at the community level. Children’s magazines or those kinds of things are a really good resource, also checking with community-based organizations that may be in the neighborhood who are familiar with folks that are running these kinds of camps.
Delia Pompa: Can librarians help with parents finding these programs?
Dr. Loriene Roy: By providing them; and also providing sort of an information referral to other sources such as these community groups who are doing similar things.
Delia Pompa: They have all the answers, librarians. You know, it dawns on me, if there aren’t a lot of these programs, good summer programs, there are probably organizations that could and should start their own summer programs. How should they go about this? What should the keep in mind as they’re starting up these summer programs?
Ron Fairchild: Well, we have, over the past several years, done a lot of research on these different models of summer programs and have a set of characteristics available on our website, www.summerlearning.org, where we refer people to those, and then a set of tools and resources for people who are interested in starting programs like this.
I think there’s a significant need out there for more summer opportunities, and I think that those kinds of resources can certainly point people to-in the right direction.
Delia Pompa: Thank you both. Now it’s time to take some questions from our audience. The first question, ready? Okay. Great.
Audience member: Hi. Is it just reading we need to worry about with summer reading loss? What about math or other academic areas?
Delia Pompa: Ron?
Ron Fairchild: Sure. I think math is an absolutely essential skill that we need to focus on during the summer months. You think about… We receive a lot of messages as parents about the importance of summer reading. I think we hear it from our public libraries, we hear it from Chambers of Commerce and other businesses that have reading incentive programs over the summer. We think it… Looking out there it’s very rare to see math incentive programs over the summer and it’s hard for parents to really understand what they can do to reinforce math concepts and skills during the summer. So I think that that’s something that’s really critical and very important.
Delia Pompa: Great. We have another question.
Audience member: Yes, please. Do you have any suggestions for ways to help facilitate the summer reading of children with learning disabilities?
Dr. Loriene Roy: I’ll start and Ron will pick up. ALA has a number of recommended sources, including lists of books, including the Schneider Family Book Awards, those that depict positive imagery of children with disabilities. There are books that are called “Quick Picks” that are high-interest books where the vocabulary might be at the little bit lower end, but very wonderfully produced.
So books for all children at all grade level, and reading levels, that’s where librarians are excellent resources.
Ron Fairchild: I would encourage, again, that parent/teacher conference focus on the IEP [Individualized Education Plan] and what the recommendations are in that IEP for the summer. And make sure that before the child leaves school in June or whenever the school year ends, before they leave school that year that there is a solid plan in place for the kinds of activities that they need to participate in during the summer to make sure that they go back to school, again, fully prepared in the fall.
Delia Pompa: These are great questions. We have another one.
Audience member: Hello. What can teachers do to prepare the students for a productive summer?
Ron Fairchild: Well, I can start. I think if I were teaching 2nd grade, I would make sure that I visited the 3rd grade teacher, and the 3rd grade teachers in that school building, and make sure that whatever I’m recommending over the summer is going to prepare my kids to make that transition to 3rd grade as seamless as possible.
And, again, just reaching out to parents, making sure that parents have the information that they need to continue that learning during the summer.
Dr. Loriene Roy: And finding out what’s going on at the library during the summer as well.
Delia Pompa: Great.
Audience member: Hello.
Delia Pompa: Hello.
Audience member: What do you think about year-round school?
Dr. Loriene Roy: As a parent, it’s certainly sounded like a good idea when my son was younger but… Ron, what do you know about research related to year-round schools?
Ron Fairchild: Well, I think what we’re seeing is that we want to encourage year-round learning. And that may or may not mean year-round school, depending on, I think, the community and the context and the parents that are supportive of this. I think it’s interesting to look at many places that have gone to year-round school. Having gone to year-round school to actually add time to the calendar, they typically just redistribute the existing school calendar differently. And so it’s still the same 180 days, just spread out over a different time period. And we see the real potential and real benefits for young people is when you start to add more engaged learning time.
So if you’re going to add 30 more days of engaged learning in the context of a summer program, that’s another 180, 200 hours of learning time, and we see that as a much more promising avenue. If we could sort of think about rather than fighting a battle over a calendar, let’s all work together to expand the learning opportunities for young people. Give parents more choices.
Delia Pompa: Loriene, let me put you on the spot a little because I don’t know if this exists, but is there a way to create year-round learning by having libraries coordinate with the school what should be taught over the summer? Has anybody done that in any location?
Dr. Loriene Roy: I would think that there is. You know, all these ideas are being done somewhere is what I imagine. And I think that the tribal schools I know, for example, during the summer there are cultural celebrations. Children prepare through sometimes summer programs that are held in the community, the library working with perhaps a youth center. So there are certainly examples where that learning is year round. There isn’t a break. That after May, from May to September, you don’t talk about certain things.
Delia Pompa: And summer becomes productive that way.
Dr. Loriene Roy: Yes. Yes.
Delia Pompa: Yeah. Okay. Thanks. Next question.
Audience member: Hello. My family is going on vacation this summer and I’d like to sneak in some reading and writing skills while we’re away. What can I do to promote literacy while we’re on the road?
Dr. Loriene Roy: I’m a big fan of audio books, except that my son listened to the Fantastic Mr. Fox like 12 times a day on a road trip once and we kind of hit a limit with that, you know? And just bringing a couple more audio books helped that out.
Serialized books where you can talk about what the next event is. The tape is off and as you’re walking somewhere, “What happens next in the story”, so that the words become part of one’s own creative thinking. And then having that written book too around to read during gap times. So just being surrounded by words, I think, is wonderful. A little bit of effort and becomes pretty soon a natural thing that you do.
Ron Fairchild: And I think involving kids in the actual planning of the trip. We’re taking a baseball-themed vacation for a week this summer and our kids are reading books about baseball. They’re getting excited about that trip now.
So I think, thinking about your trip in terms of what are the things we can do before the trip to get kids excited: we can read books, we can do other kinds of literacy activities before the trip. What can we do during the trip and then what can we do after the trip to get them writing and reflecting on their experiences and putting together scrap books and other kinds of things like that that, again, kind of fold rather seamlessly and easily into things that we’re already planning to do as parents.
Delia Pompa:: There are so many questions to ask about this. We have another one from the audience.
Audience member: Yes. Thank you. My child would rather play on the computer than read. Can technology help with summer learning and reading loss?
Dr. Loriene Roy: Oh, this is a great topic because libraries are really into gaming, serving as gaming venues. And for some people they see it as sort of a disconnect, you know, why are you offering Guitar Hero competitions or Dance, Dance Revolution competitions? And we’re learning certain things from the people who love games who are coming into libraries. One thing is that if you get people into a library for a gaming reason, three quarters of them come back for something else.
Gaming also involves a different kind of learning. My son and I were in Edinburgh, Scotland, and we were at the castle looking at armaments and he knew all these words for things. And he said, “Well, we don’t have this piece here”. And I go, “How do you know that”? He says, “You know I play Civilization Three, Mom”. You know? So he learns in ways that I wasn’t always able to absorb and observe.
But over 60% of public libraries are now offering gaming as an activity. Some of it’s intergenerational. Grandparents and children playing Wii for example. And in April this year the American Library Association actually celebrated its first National Gaming @ Your Library Day.
Ron Fairchild: Uh huh. I think technology is great. It could be a wonderful vehicle to inspire and encourage learning in young people. I am, however, a little concerned about trends around how much time young people are spending in front of screens, whether that’s television or computers, and not outside, not engaged in physical activities during the summer. And there have been some interesting studies recently about trends in body mass index rates and the fact that kids are gaining weight much more quickly and at a much more unhealthy rate during the early grades over the summer months as compared to the school year. So there’s something about the structure and some limits that I think that are reasonable that parents could provide during the summer that would provide a good balance, I think.
Delia Pompa: Balance seems to be the key there. We have another question.
Audience member: Yes. Hi. Is there anything I can do to get my child more excited about summer reading before the school term ends?
Dr. Loriene Roy: Finding something that would interest that child. There is something they’re interested in. I remember the time where my rating preference had to take second whereas finding out that my son at about grade 2nd and grade three had his own tastes. They weren’t things that I necessarily read, but they were things that he enjoyed. Humor. If you haven’t read Captain Underpants, this is a great summer to find-discover Captain Underpants.
Delia Pompa:: We have another question.
Audience member: Hello. I’m interested in starting my own reading incentive program for my child. Is there anything I should keep in mind
Delia Pompa: Loriene, you probably have all kinds of ideas on that.
Dr. Loriene Roy: Well, we’ve tried many things in the household from getting little incentives for the numbers of books (and this was with my own child). There are lots of things you can do. Finding out what encourages that person. Maybe reward with a computer game time later on. Learning… Reading so much during the week for some celebration. There are incentives based on the person and that child’s motivation.
Ron Fairchild: I also think these incentive programs give us a wonderful opportunity to teach kids the value of working towards something over time. And so rather than just a real time “If you do this, you get that” in a very short term window, to say, “Well, let’s look at the whole summer and let’s look at… If we work together on this over the course of the summer, the summer could culminate in something really fun and exciting.” And whatever that is, I think, has to depend on the child’s interests. But I think it, again, sort of… This notion of delaying gratification a little bit or making sure that kids are kind of working towards something or earning something could be really important.
Delia Pompa:: Thank you. It looks like we have time for one final question.
Audience member: Hi. What other media besides books are effective in continuing the literacy of your child?
Dr. Loriene Roy: We talked a little bit about gaming, whether or not games are something that you feel drawn to. I know that young people are drawn to it. The average gamer actually in the U.S. is a woman in her 30s.
Audio, audio books. My son couldn’t read and I was reading picture books to him. And his first picture book that he repeated back to me verbatim just from oral learning was Take Me Out to the Ballgame. And I had given up on that boy and he repeated… I read to him once and I said, “That’s it. He’s not paying attention”. And I said, “Take Me Out to the…”, and he repeated the whole story back to me. And I said he learns but not the way I learn. So there are wonderful other resources. Ron, anything else?
Ron Fairchild: Yes. I mean, I think exposing kids to words and to print in whatever form or fashion we can put our hands on, and so that’s newspapers, magazines, books, all kinds of online resources. I mean, basically surrounding young people with words and the power of language, I think, is just a wonderful strategy.
Delia Pompa:: Thank you, everyone. It looks like we’re off to a good start for this summer. But before we finish up, I’d like to get one final though from our guests. Why don’t we start with you, Ron.
Ron Fairchild: Well, I think my final thought for the panel would just be to really think about, you know, how do we make sure that our young people are learning over the summer, and not just for our own kids but for other kids in our community and in our state. And to think broadly about this, as a country and as a nation. That we need to really figure out ways creatively to close these gaps. This achievement gap is something that we all need to be concerned about. It’s the future or the future of this country is really at stake if we let millions of young people not have access to these kinds of opportunities.
Delia Pompa: Loriene, what thoughts do you want to leave us with?
Dr. Loriene Roy: Just that people should remember that the library is there and has been there for over 150 years. Check out what’s new at the library. I think people will be pretty surprised.
Delia Pompa: Thank you, both. Thank you, both, so much. And thank you for joining us for this Reading Rockets Webcast. For more information about how you can help the struggling readers in your lives, please visit us on the web at www.readingrockets.org. And while you’re there, please let us know what you thought about this program.
Click on webcast to find our online survey. Again, thank you for joining us and take care.
Narrator: Funding for the Reading Rockets Webcast Series is provided by the United States Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs.
Research shows children lose one to three months of learning during the summer, and that loss can be compounded every year. Ron Fairchild and Dr. Loriene Roy discuss how to make the most of summer learning.