Guest Blogs

Stop the Summer Slide

Help your child retain what she’s learned during the school year with this guide to fun, free, and effective summer reading programs.

Every summer I worry that my daughter, Natalie, will lose the academic skills it took her all year to attain. If you have a child diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and/or learning disabilities (LD), I’m sure you worry about this “summer slide” too. So what’s the best way to help our children hold on to what they have learned?

Two words: summer reading. According to James S. Kim, Ed.D., assistant professor of education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, kids who read during the summer tend to be better prepared academically — and need less review — for to prepare for back-to-school in the fall. (See ADDitude’s ADHD Child’s Summer Reading List.)

DIY Summer Reading Program: Increase Comprehension at Home

Summer reading shouldn’t feel like homework. Leisure reading improves both vocabulary and comprehension. The key word is “leisure.” Don’t turn reading at home into a classroom exercise. Encourage your child to read for pleasure.

Set a good example: Be a bookworm family. Natalie is a struggling reader, but she is motivated to read anyway. I believe, and research supports, that watching her big brother, Aaron, and me read for fun is the reason.

Use reading comprehension exercises to boost skills. Kids with ADHD and LD may need help from parents to acquire decoding skills, fluency, and comprehension. Have your child read short passages aloud, and ask him questions about what he’s read. Encourage him to summarize what’s happening in the story, and to predict what will happen next. Ask him to re-read difficult passages. Good readers do these things automatically, but children who lose focus easily need adult guidance. Natalie likes to play teacher, and asks me to predict what will happen when we read stories together.

Read at the right level. Books should fit a child’s reading level. Ask your librarian or bookstore staff to recommend appropriate books, or select books with the level of difficulty displayed on the front or back cover. Or try this test: Open a prospective book to any page, and have your child start reading. Count the words she can’t read. If there are fewer than five, the book’s a keeper. Five or more? Keep looking.

Reading quantity counts. There’s a strong relationship between the number of books read and a child’s improvement in reading ability. Reading at least four or five books each summer produces big skill-saving. Let your child choose books that fit his interests. Garfield — or, in Natalie’s case, Captain Underpants — is as effective in sharpening reading skills as are more serious books. Popular series — Harry Potter and others — are especially good at keeping children reading.

Try reading aloud or listen to audio books. Sometimes Natalie will bring home a book that is popular with classmates, but that is too hard for her to read. There are ways, though, for her to have her book and “read” it, too. Kids are never too old to be read aloud to, and they can benefit from following along as you read. Natalie and I enjoyed the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series together this way. Or you can pair an audio book with the print version, and let your child read silently along with the narrator.

Summer Reading Programs: Libraries, Bookstores, and Online

If you don’t have the energy or time to create a summer reading program at home for your child, sign up for one sponsored by public libraries, bookstores, or online book publishers. The programs are fun, free, and effective in encouraging your ADHD and/or LD child to turn the page.

Summer Reading Programs Available at Public libraries. The Collaborative Summer Library Program, a grassroots organization, creates summer reading programs for libraries in 48 states.

Public library summer programs typically consist of two elements. One is a reading incentive program, in which kids keep a reading log, and are awarded prizes for reaching milestones. The second is special events — story times, concerts, and parties — that entertain and increase a child’s motivation to read.

Summer Reading Programs Available at Bookstores. Barnes & Noble runs reading incentive programs each summer. Your local independent bookstore may also have one. Kids typically earn discounts or free books by participating in these programs. Watch for local advertising for in-store events — visits from popular storybook characters, themed story times, author visits, and book-release parties.

Online Summer Reading Programs. Scholastic kicked off its 2010 reading program at the end of April. This year’s theme is “Read for the World Record.” Participants join schoolmates online to track their summer reading. The goal? To set school and world records for most minutes spent reading. Scholastic offers online book lists and special discounts on products as part of its Web-based program.