Summer clubs keep kids reading

By Pam Christensen, Superiorland Library Cooperative

The “summer slide” is not a new amusement park ride, but something teachers know all too well—the loss of reading skills that occurs during summer vacation. This loss of achievement is especially difficult for struggling learners, who work so hard to gain reading achievements during the school year. To return to school in the fall having slipped back to a lower reading level can be disheartening for students and their teachers.

Summer reading clubs have been offered at public libraries for many years. Public libraries traditionally see a summer slump in library visits and circulation. People are on vacation or too busy enjoying outdoor activities to visit the library, while others just want a break from active learning in the summer.

For many years, libraries have tried to counteract the summer slide by offering programs, reading clubs and special reading incentives. Attracting people to the library was the main focus of this summer programming. Unfortunately, planning, organizing and implementing the summer reading club at each library was time consuming for library staff. The burden of conducting a summer reading club overwhelmed the staff members at many libraries. Luckily, summer reading clubs got easier to offer as a result of library collaboration.

The Collaborative Summer Library Program (CSLP) was established in 1987 when 10 Minnesota regional library systems developed a uniform summer reading club to be used by all of the regions. The group selected a theme, created artwork and offered incentives that could be purchased and used by member libraries. The success of the program attracted other library systems over the year. Today the organization serves a total of 57 entities including the Library of Michigan. The participants work together to develop a unified and high-quality manual of programming and promotional ideas.

In addition to materials for libraries, CSLP has identified five benefits of summer reading programming for children.

• Children are motivated to read

• Children develop positive attitudes about books, reading and the library

• Children maintain their reading level during summer vacation

• Children are presented with opportunities to further their sense of discovery

• Children have access to experiences through which they can learn and work cooperatively

Cathy Lancaster, youth and teen services coordinator at the Library of Michigan, recently returned to Michigan from the annual meeting of the Collaborative Summer Library Program where the organization was selecting the theme for the 2020 CSLP. The organization works two to three years in the future in order to develop the CSLP program manual, artwork, promotional materials, incentives, book lists, Internet resources, suggested music, craft and activity ideas.

The theme for this year’s CSLP is “Build a Better World.” This theme allows libraries to integrate construction and community improvement themes with the summer reading club.

“The manual and summer reading program developed by CSLP is very high quality. Each year, representatives from the membership gather together to work on forthcoming themes. The broad membership assures that the themes are relevant to youth all over the world. We try to make sure that the materials developed will appeal to library personnel, engage communities where they are used and encourage summer reading and learning,” Lancaster said.

The Library of Michigan purchases a CSLP membership for each public library in the state. This investment means that each Michigan public library receives the CSLP program manual in November. This gives library personnel ample time to plan for the upcoming summer and fully organize their summer reading club.

“Libraries are not required to use the CSLP theme, says Lancaster. Many communities will use their own theme, especially if they want to tie into a community celebration or event. Libraries often customize the theme to take advantage of a community centennial or special event. We don’t want to restrict libraries from doing what is most meaningful to their community,” she added.

A variety of organizations have researched how the summer break from the classroom and formal literacy instruction affects students. Unfortunately, it is the students who can least afford to lose the reading gains they have achieved during the school year that have the most dramatic summer slide. Many teachers watch in dismay as students return to the classroom and seem to have lost the reading skills they developed the previous year.

Scholastic, Inc. has identified three ways that parents, grandparents and caregivers can battle the summer slide in three easy steps. Reading is a skill that can be developed just like a sport, music or art.

The most important of these three strategies is to keep children reading. Research has found that reading as few as six books during the summer can keep students from losing skills and regressing in reading level. The six books should be selected carefully. They should be at the child’s reading level and should be of interest to the child.

Daily reading is important for the preservation of reading skills. Parents can assist with this by reading on a daily basis. The reading can be as simple as the weather report or comics from the newspaper, the back of a cereal box, magazines, schedules or recipes.

Read aloud to children and teens. Listening to someone reading a book aloud helps children build listening and comprehension skills. Reading before bedtime or to start the day can be a special time for family members and help to build family unity. Allowing each member of the family to select a book for reading aloud during the summer elevates interest in reading. Children eagerly anticipate the next chapter of the book. Allowing children to select a multi-book series for reading during the summer can also create interest in reading. Library personnel who work with children and teens can make recommendations for series that are age and interest appropriate.

The structure of summer reading clubs are as diverse as the number of locations hosting programs. Each community implements a program that meets the needs of its readers. Most libraries begin their summer reading club registration during the last week of school, but oftentimes children can join the club at any time during the summer. Clubs can range from four to 12 weeks in duration, depending on the location. Libraries may offer special awards, prizes or incentives for the number of minutes, pages, chapters or books that have been read. Many have dropped a formal structure, preferring to encourage reading without any rules and regulations. Clubs for teens and adults are also held in many locations.

Your public library can help beat the summer slide and provide hours of reading pleasure for children and families. Check your local library’s website or Facebook to see how their programs and services will help your family “Build a Better World.”


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