Local libraries offer great way for kids to avoid "Summer Learning Gap"

PHOENIX - Have you heard of the "Summer Learning Gap"? That's the effect downtime from learning has on our kids during the summer months.. and the results of numerous studies done, have always been overwhelming clear that those who read and study during the summer, jump back into the school year ahead of the curve from those who don't.
Cindy Kolaczynski is the Deputy Director of the Maricopa County Library District . We sat down with her to find out more about these studies and where to find the resources to keep your child on track this summer.

SF: Summer is such a tough time to get your kids to open a book, but knowing it makes a big difference could be the key to motivating children to do so. Tell us more about these studies.

Cindy: There have been numerous studies done with the intention of addressing this question. The overwhelming finding is that there is a strong positive correlation between summer reading and academic achievement. In 2010, a study was done in which researchers compared economically disadvantaged children who had access to self-selected books over the summer and those who did not (Allington, et al.). After three years, it became clear that reading over the summer had a noticeable effect.

As you might imagine, this is a pretty big topic in libraries all across the country. The Summer Reading Program is intended to actively combat what is known as the "summer learning gap." Those few months away from school and active reading can seriously set children back in their educational pursuits. Studies have shown that the average student can lose anywhere from one to three months of learning over the summer (Cooper et al., 1996). The effect is most obvious in elementary school-aged students, but extends into the teen years and beyond (Alexander et al., 2007). Public libraries are at the core of addressing this problem. Kids who participate in summer reading programs tend to do better in school than those who don't (Celano & Neuman, 2001). Students who read throughout the summer become more confident readers, are better prepared for the classroom, and, most importantly, read for the sheer enjoyment of it (Dominican University, 2010).

The Maricopa County Library District does a lot to meet this need. We provide a summer reading program to 29 different libraries in the Valley, from Queen Creek to Wickenburg. For ages 0-5 the program is called All Aboard @ Your Library, for ages 6-11 One World, Many Stories and for ages 12-18 You Are Here. At each of the libraries, we bring in programs and performers throughout the summer to encourage families to visit their local libraries. This summer has been notable in many ways. First and foremost, we've installed several Early Literacy Stations at different libraries. These interactive, game-based computers have been proven to develop and foster literacy in children. We also make it a point to include young children who are not able to read yet in the program. Research on early literacy (what children know about reading and writing before they actually can read or write) and child development indicates that it is never too early to start preparing children to be successful readers. Children who have been read to from an early age have a larger vocabulary, better language skills, and a greater interest in books. They also are more likely to want to learn to read than children who have not been read to. In addition to being read to, early literacy activities such as learning a new nursery rhyme, song, or poem, drawing a picture about a story, and playing I Spy Alphabet have been included on the Pre-Reader game board (birth-5). We have a great Parents page available year round on our library homepage that includes specific early literacy tips and activities as well as booklists. Where teenagers are concerned, we try to make programming and offerings more interactive by bringing in programs that encourage the creation of content rather than consumption of it. This summer, we debuted a global postcard exchange that has had library users all across Maricopa County corresponding with people from other cultures. We've also started to liven up our summer movie screenings with MuVChat technology, a computer-based program that allows viewers to interact on screen with other audience members via cell phone text messages.

We try to keep our program offerings fresh and interesting to get kids interested in coming to the library. We recognize that, sometimes, the promise of doing better in school just isn't enough. Literacy has to be fun, too.

SF: Do you have some smart and simple tips for getting your child to read during the summer?
Cindy: The most important thing is to make sure that self-selected reading material is available.

The easiest way to do that is to take your kids to the library and allow them to pick out what they want to read. Self-selection is an essential aspect of this practice, as it takes away the association with the assigned reading children get at school. Summer reading has to be enjoyable to be successful.

It certainly doesn't hurt to positively reinforce good reading behavior, either. This is where the Summer Reading Program comes in. Children really appreciate that their efforts go toward the achievement of a tangible thing. When reading is rewarded with an actual prize, children are more likely to get excited about the prospect. In our program, each child gets a game board/reading chart with four distinct goals. Each goal on the board corresponds with a prize (the prizes vary by age group). The final prize (for all ages) is a free book (selected by the child) that gets mailed to your home. So not only do kids get some fun prizes for reading, they also get more fuel to encourage the adoption of reading as a lifelong habit.

Lastly, it is of the utmost importance that you read with your child. Kids learn a great deal by modeling parental behavior. Let your children see you reading; talk to them about the newspaper, recipes, books, magazines, signs, labels, and emails. Your child wants to do the same things they see you do. Always keep reading activities fun, if your child gets restless put the book away and read again later. Have an abundance of reading materials on hand and available for your child. Of course visit your library! Many programs and story times are being held this summer and year round. When your child sees other children and parents engaged and enjoying story time it is a great opportunity to join in with other families and celebrate reading.

SF: Are there any good books you recommend?
Cindy: Some fun read aloud books are: Children Make Terrible Pets by Peter Brown, Scaredy Cat- Splat! By Rob Scotton, The Boss Baby by Marla Frazee, and my personal favorite right now, Pete the Cat: I Love my White Shoes by Eric Litwin. For older readers some of the really popular books continue to be the Rick Riordan Percy Jackson series and of course Jeff Kinney's Diary of a Wimpy Kid series. There have been a lot of great books released this summer for teens. The first one that comes to my mind is Beauty Queens by Printz Award winning author Libba Bray. The story follows a plane full of beauty queens (a la Miss America) as they try to survive on a remote desert island after their plane crashes on the way to a photo shoot. It is both wildly entertaining and incredibly smart. It delves into issues such as identity, gender politics, and hair spray.

SF: Can we still jump into the program?
Cindy: It's not too late to join the Summer Reading Program! The program ends on July 30th so visit your library soon! Next summer, you can look forward to the Arizona State Centennial reading program. It will be a state-wide affair that will draw our local history and culture into our traditional literacy efforts.

Please visit www.mcldaz.org for locations, hours and calendar of events.

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