The NY Times had an excellent article on the value of summer reading based on a three-year study of low-income children in Florida. Of particular importance was that the children were allowed to choose their own books.
From the article:
Ellen Galinsky, president of the Families and Work Institute and author of a new book about how children learn, “Mind in the Making,” said she hoped that the findings would encourage parents and teachers to allow children to select their own reading material.
“A child’s interests are a door into the room of reading,” said Ms. Galinsky, who said her own son turned away from books during grade school. Because he liked music, she encouraged him to read music magazines or books about musicians. Her son later regained an interest in reading and has a Ph.D.
One of the reasons I have become so involved family bookmaking is related to choice. Kids need to be able to write about what interests them and there is little time for that in most schools. By making books at home, they will have a place to pursue their own passions. Books about music and musicians for example.
And this article about summer reading reminded me of a letter I wrote to the editor of our local paper about summer reading. My complaint was that kids were assigned projects to do about their reading which totally missed the point of summer reading: pleasure. Note that my reference point for competition to reading is television. How far the screen has extended into our lives since then.
When the Summer Reading program was first introduced, I thought it was a good idea. It would keep kids reading and give them a chance to do it without the pressure of additional schoolwork and book reports. The summers flew by, the reading was often done at the end of the summer in anything but relaxed circumstances, but I still supported it. The last two years the program has expanded to include written responses to the books and a small project.This year the reading was enjoyable and finished on time. The selection of books has been a good one. But now we are faced with the written projects and I say let’s go back to just reading.
I had been questioning whether I was being a lazy parent. Am I going to send my child out unprepared to compete with the Japanese and Singaporean children because I don’t feel like nagging over the summer?
Our family vacation changed my mind. We all brought books with us. I read three novels, my husband one, and my seventh grader, one. For the adults, it was pure joy. The seventh grader couldn’t put his book down, but it was not pure joy. There was always this feeling that he should be writing a response, answering one of the questions provided. I thought how different my feelings would be if I knew I had to write written responses for the three books I read.
I think the Summer Reading Program should be the time to inspire students with the love of reading and if not love, at least a sense that reading can be a pleasurable experience. It is the time to help create lifelong reading patterns. One can argue that the kids can read additional books for pleasure, but the sad fact is, most won’t. Reading is in competition with television and television has the advantage. It’s easy; the images are provided. We just sit and absorb. Reading is work. We have to decode and comprehend the words and then create the images in our heads. When we’re comfortable with it, it gives us freedom. Until we are, it can be a struggle.
We cannot forget that this competition between books and television exists. By requiring written work only from reading, we give television an unfair advantage. Summer is the time to build the habit of reading for fun, the time to learn to see reading as a richer form of entertainment than television. Therefore, I urge the Newburyport Public Schools to eliminate the writing component from the Summer Reading Program. Evaluations of the students comprehension can be done in class at the start of the year. Let our children have the same pleasure we do for their summer reading.