Staying in Reading Shape

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Those who love to make music, who take joy from an instrument, never have to be told to go practice. True musicians will play even when their families don’t want them to. They do it because they love it.musician1

I’m not speaking about the child who can play because he was forced to take lessons, and as a result rarely ever plays unless grandma comes over. I mean the child who begged to get lessons and continues to play even when everyone else is scrambling into the car for an outing.

Being a reader is a lot like being a musician. The more we read the better we get at reading. Just like the true musician, some of us read every time we see a five minute window that will allow it. That keeps us in excellent reading shape.

Children can lose their reading fitness, though. If a youngster stops reading, because she only picks up a book when required, she is not likely to stay in very good reading shape. Whether in summer, over the winter holidays or after graduation, they lose reading strength because they don’t continue to read. Their fitness sags.

Children can continue to read during school breaks. There are libraries, book distribution projects and digital books galore. Many of them just choose not to. Kids seek to do what they love during the summertime and those that slide backward in reading have not yet learned to love reading, even when reading their own self-selected books.musician 2

  • Get them a library card and get them there.
  • Give them guidance and coaching in finding home-run books about topics they find fascinating or by authors whose books can reliably spark the desire to read a second and third selection.
  • Give them every opportunity to self-identify books that will ignite their motivation to read. Help them connect with other readers with the same interests.
  • Ensure they have time and a safe, comfortable place for reading and discussing books filled with the delights that match their interests, that speak to them, and that capture what’s in their hearts.

If we are still talking about summer-reading-slide every year we surely are not doing these things. There is clear evidence that children who continue to read over the summer continue to grow.* They don’t plateau. They don’t regress.

The following (perhaps too-complex) graphic provides a closer look at these possibilities-

Final Slide

**Adapted from Cooper et al, 1996

A. The amount of achievement difference attributable to SES differences between families. Note that school year learning rates are the same.

B. Note that even high SES kids can go dormant over vacations.

C. Reading loss or reading plateau, every vacation, for 12 years. That’s ALL kids getting out of reading shape.

D. Equivalent learning rates return to normal for both groups when reading recommences.

E. Yet, the impact of SES + Vacation decays can aggregate each year.

F. Note the differences enjoying time to read outside of school COULD make for ALL children who stay in good reading shape.

Getting back in shape each year for an activity they don’t love is exhausting and depressing for those who, regardless of putting out the same effort as classmates, keep falling farther behind.

Staying in shape by reading what they love in the summertime is a joyful insurance for lifelong learning.


*Allington, R. L., & McGill-Franzen, A. (2013). Summer reading: Closing the rich/poor reading achievement gap. New York: Teachers College Press.
** Cooper, Harris;Nye, Barbara;Charlton, Kelly;Lindsay, James;Greathouse, Scott. The effects of summer vacation on achievement test scores: A narrative and meta-analytic review. Review of Educational Research; Fall 1996; 66, 3; ProQuest, pg. 227-268.

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2 Responses to “Staying in Reading Shape”

  1. R. Stevens July 16, 2017 at 9:14 am #

    Thank you for the reminder, now how to lure my inner city charges into summer reading 🙂

    • Mark Condon July 16, 2017 at 6:57 pm #

      Step 1 is always emotionally charged read alouds by YOU or other caring / capable readers … and lively conversations about topics that spurred by those books captivate their imaginations.
      Step 2 is making sure that you can supply sufficient captivating books for them to freely choose from.
      Step 3 is getting folks with the same interests and enthusiasms in reading together.
      They gotta wanta read.
      Step 4 is to accept that this is a long road to lifelong readership. But the only way down that road for them is through reading stuff that lights their fires.
      All good wishes!