Keep kids reading — a summer challenge

Summer holidays are a time to read for no other reason than pure pleasure. But not everyone has the opportunity or inclination to read.

Children and young people who don’t read over the summer can experience a drop in reading skills — 'the summer slide'. Often, it's those who can least afford to lose their year’s reading gains who fall the furthest behind with effects that are cumulative and long-lasting.

Girl reading 'Diary of a Wimpy Kid' paperback while lounging in hammock by the sea
Summer reading by sondich. Pixabay. License to use.

Reading for pleasure brings a wide range of benefits

Reading for pleasure sounds indulgent but is a Trojan horse for learning and life, bringing benefits that range from increased vocabulary, reading skills, and knowledge to greater empathy, understanding of self and others, and wellbeing. OECD research has reported that reading enjoyment is more important for children’s educational success than their family’s socio-economic status.

Reading in decline

The 2016 PIRLS report showed a decline in the performance of year 5 New Zealand students in reading overall, with the decline most noticeable among the top end of the achievement distribution. Although the causes of this decline in achievement require unpicking, it does correlate with a decline in reading.

In an article in The Conversation, Jean Twenge reports on a study that found a sharp decline in reading books among teens in the US:

In 1980, 60 percent of 12th graders said they read a book, newspaper or magazine every day that wasn’t assigned for school.

By 2016, only 16 percent did — a huge drop, even though the book, newspaper or magazine could be one read on a digital device (the survey question doesn’t specify format).

Twenge highlights the stiff competition reading faces from the very compelling lure of digital pursuits such as gaming and social media. 

A 2018 Netsafe report stated that a third of New Zealand teens spend four or more hours online on an average day. Reading in this realm is often bite-sized and fleeting. As Professor Stuart McNaughton, Director from Woolf Fisher Research Institute argues in a piece for Education Central, '...it is not screen time, it’s the content and quality of usage, and how it contributes to "recreational" reading that matters to achievement.'

This drop in time spent reading books for pleasure is also highlighted in Scholastic’s most recent US Kids & Family Reading Report. This showed that among 9- to 11-year-olds, 14% read no books during the summer of 2018, compared with 7% in 2016. For 15- to 17-year-olds, this figure rose to 32% who didn’t read at all during the summer of 2018 compared with 22% in 2016.

Access to books keeps kids reading

Keeping children and teens reading throughout the school year can be challenging. However, over the summer, without the support and encouragement of teachers and librarians and easy access to books in school and classroom libraries, this challenge requires even more of a concerted, collaborative effort.

Ideally, it's particularly important to ensure children and teens leave school with books (that they choose) in their bags to take home for the summer. Not all children will have access to books (print and/or eBooks) at home or through libraries over the holidays.

Encourage and inspire — a summer reading challenge

Many public libraries offer summer reading programmes in their area, and several offer reading challenges, which are a great way of encouraging kids to read.

This year, there is also the Super Smash Reading Challenge, which brings together cricket and reading. Read NZ Te Pou Muramura (formerly NZ Book Council) and NZ Cricket’s T20 summer tournament have created a new interactive website for primary and intermediate-aged children, who are invited to register for free and choose their local cricket team to ‘play’ for.

Players log the books they read over the summer, along with a star rating and short review. A leader board keeps track of the Super Smash teams as they move up and down the rankings accordingly. The Super Smash Reading Challenge will run until the final T20 cricket game on 19 January.

Paper Plus book vouchers are up for grabs every day of the tournament. There are lots of other spot prizes on offer, including books and signed sports gear from NZ Cricket, along with double passes to games.

Find out more or sign up for the Super Smash Reading Challenge

Read more about summer reading, the research, and ideas for collaboration and initiatives.

By Jo Buchan

Jo is the Senior Specialist (Developing Readers) for Services to Schools.

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