As I write this, it’s the first full day of autumn. Schools are now in high gear and kids are starting to trade in their shorts and T-shirts for jeans and hoodies, fending off the early morning chill.
Here at Unite for Literacy, kids are showing up in rapidly growing numbers, reading again in our free online library. This is great because we experience a lull during summer. More kids reading is always good news, but that positive news spawned a nagging thought. Shouldn’t there be a rise in summer reading for our young readers each year, never a drop?
After all, summer reading is the fully understood cure for the destructive summer “slide” that occurs when children put down books in May and don’t pick them up again until the first bell rings in the fall. Children can lose up to one-third of a year’s progress in reading and writing as a result. Across 12 years of summers, that slide can add up to four years of achievement loss. So as important a part of every child’s life that year-round reading for fun is, in the summer it is beyond crucial.
Public libraries creatively promote their summer reading programs, of course. Encouraging children’s reading habits and regular fulfilling interaction with books in ways that seek to eliminate the slide is the children’s librarian’s stock in trade. Hard-earned achievements can in fact be enhanced, not lost, when summer school teachers and parents heed the call to library-fueled reading fulfillment.
But what about little children who aren’t in school yet? Does summer slide affect preschoolers for whom there are typically no clear expectations for literacy achievement? Knowing that reading is a natural enhancer of language sophistication and vocabulary development offers us guidance in answering that question.
Books expand children’s horizons, vicariously building broad background and world knowledge beyond what they can experience around the home. As such then, regular joyful reading times with kids between birth and kindergarten might actually be seen as an elevator for establishing a higher baseline for each class of five-year-old children prior to beginning formal instruction.
If the same impact occurs for wee ones as it does for school-aged kids, then the five years of reading that can occur between the nursery and parents turning loose of little hands on day one of the school years could put their children nearly two years ahead of where they might otherwise be without that rich stimulation.
Given that possibility, it would seem a natural for schools, which these days are so deeply interested in kids reaching 3rd-grade reading achievement on time, to lead the parade to educate and encourage parents to read with their birth to 8 year olds, use all library resources and, in general, build a strong foundation throughout those first 60 months of life before they even get to the school door. And other professionals who are a large part of young ones’ lives, such as pediatricians and child care providers, could be commandeered to join the parade and march alongside educators in choreographed formation.
With encouragement from all directions to read with babies beginning at birth, a daily boost in language and conceptual development would most certainly occur and positively shift children’s achievement trajectories.
Given the growing abundance of free, online books and libraries that throw their doors open to all, such achievement elevators are available to families of small children more than ever.
So step right in. There’s room for every adult and child. Let’s all ride this elevator to the top.