Research shows that reading at least 20 minutes a day, every day, all year long, can make a world of difference for students at all levels. We know that daily reading practice helps students avoid the dreaded summer slide that can rob them of gains they’ve made during the school year.

The challenge is how to get and keep students engaged in reading over the summer months, without regular contact with teachers, school librarians, and others who provide that reading message during the school year. The solution is a summer literacy initiative that motivates students with the support of both families and community partners.

A successful summer initiative should mirror the school culture and serve as a connector between the prior school year and the upcoming school year. Well-executed summer initiatives that become part of the fabric of a school community result in an expectation that “Of course our students will continue reading over the summer months. Why wouldn’t they?”

Creating a just-right summer initiative

Planning is key. Some schools and districts begin planning for the following summer as soon as their current summer initiatives have wrapped up. Others tackle it early in the calendar year. Still others may wait until Spring. Regardless of when planning begins, an important first step is to identify a summer literacy coordinator who can lead the planning and implementation processes.

Ensure students have access to engaging material for summer reading. This can include partnering with public libraries and other local organizations that provide kids with access to print and/or electronic books over the summer. Increasingly, schools and districts are also adopting digital reading platforms to give students unlimited, 24/7 access to books on a variety of topics and at a range of levels—both during the school year and over the summer.

Establish goals and success indicators, along with a plan for monitoring progress. Here, it’s important to take advantage of the critical school-to-home connection by providing families with resources to encourage reading outside of school. Explain that providing a reading space and setting aside time in their student’s schedule every day to read—independently or together with family members—is essential. Also, share the student’s current reading level, so they can help their student find just-right books.

Communicate information about the summer initiative to staff, students, and families. Be sure to distribute summer reading information to students and families at the end of the school year, before the summer break begins. Often, community partners can then help to reinforce the message through a variety of channels—signs and posters, local media, social media, and word-of-mouth.

Next, drill down into the elements that will make the summer initiative engaging and effective. These include several key recommendations:

Tip #1: Select a summer reading theme and create reading challenges that enable students to strive for their personal best to boost engagement.

Tip #2: Work with partners to recruit and train volunteers to support summer reading activities within the community. Plan events that can be co-sponsored by one or more community partner organizations, to involve multiple stakeholders in kids’ reading success.

Tip #3: Remind families to ask their children questions before and after reading. Also, help families understand how they can extend a reading experience by finding, reading, and discussing other books on a popular topic or theme.

Tip #4: Take advantage of free resources like the brand new What Kids Are Reading report. Each year, this report identifies the most popular books at every grade level, along with popular digital reads. The 2020 edition also includes insights on nonfiction reading, on the most popular topics at different grade levels, and on career connections.

Tip #5: Celebrate successes with culminating activities around the summer reading theme, student awards for achieving reading goals, etc.

Turning the summer slide into a summer of growth

The statistics on summer slide can be alarming: according to one study, two-thirds of the achievement gap in high school reading is due to summer learning loss in the elementary grades. By implementing an effective summer reading initiative that provides access to engaging books, involves families and community partners, includes clear, attainable goals, and celebrates reading successes, we can keep students learning and growing over the summer months.

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