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Summer Exercise? Don’t forget to Exercise the Brain!

By Carolyn Simpson

Reading is like exercising. Exercising keeps muscles in shape, and reading keeps the brain in shape. If you don’t practice, you lose muscle strength. If children don’t read during the summer months they lose literacy skills.

Sports like tennis, football, soccer, basketball and all of the others are “learned skills”. Musical skills like playing an instrument or singing are also “learned skills”. Children are not born knowing the skills it takes to play these sports or to make music. They learn these skills in increments building on that knowledge over time until they become proficient.

It is the same with reading and exercising a child’s brain. Children are born learning, but it takes a language-rich environment for children to develop literacy skills. A language-rich environment will include lots of talking, singing and reading to children. It will include limited “screen time” on tablets, computers, phones, iPads etc. It should include access to summer learning opportunities and engaging experiences in the community. Lubbock Area United Way has a calendar of summer learning opportunities on our website.

Reading is a learned skill and it must be practiced to retain skill levels and to progress to the next level. This is why summer reading is critical to a child’s ability to not only retain information learned the previous school year but also to grow in knowledge and critical thinking skills.

Research indicates that it is necessary for children to read on a daily basis throughout the summer in order to maintain the literacy skills learned over the previous year. One suggestion is that children should read 30 minutes every day to maintain their reading levels.

A report from the National Institute of Education (1988) concluded that “the amount of reading done out of school is consistently related to gains in reading achievement.”

Parents and caregivers should make summer reading a fun priority for children.  Here are some suggestions to encourage summer reading:

Check out the public and school libraries for summer programs

  • Create a reading challenge between siblings or friends or relatives
  • Suggest audiobooks
  • Set up a consistent reading schedule each week
  • Use incentives for reluctant readers
  • Allow children to choose their own books to read
  • Adults should engage in the reading with the child

Many parents and caregivers may ask "How do I know if the book is at an appropriate level for my child?"  We want children to read the words accurately and quickly enough that they can focus on the meaning of the text. Therefore, to match the child’s reading level with the book, use the Five Finger Rule:

Ask the child to read 100 words from the book and to raise one finger for each word that is too difficult to figure out.  If the child has more than 5 fingers up, the book is probably too hard. Children should choose books that interest them, but the goal is also to find that “sweet spot” where the reading level is challenging but not frustrating.

Children who read over the summer may gain a month of reading proficiency. Summer reading is not a suggestion to keep kids busy: it is a critical requirement to help students stay on track for their entire educational career and beyond.

Click here to find Summer Reading activities for your children within Lubbock and the surrounding area.