Great Long-Term Value in Summer Reading Programs @ Your Local Library

Libraries across the USA provide summer reading programs that enhance reading skills and have long-term value for the life of each participant.
By: Fred Beisser
May 26, 2010 - PRLog -- ELIZABETH, Colo. Again this year, as in the past, your local library will offer an extensive Summer Reading Program (SRP) and there are some very solid reasons for it.

In 2009 Secretary of Education Arne Duncan described summer learning loss while out of school as “devastating.”  Researchers often refer to this as the “summer slide.”  Estimates indicate that school summer breaks will cause the average student to lose up to one month of instruction, with disadvantaged students being affected even more. Researchers also conclude that two-thirds of the 9th grade reading achievement gap can be explained by unequal access to summer learning opportunities during the elementary school years. Overall, existing research demonstrates the critical importance that early development of summer reading habits can play in laying the foundation for later success in life.

According to the National Institute for Literacy, early childhood through third grade is a critical time for beginning readers. From Kindergarten through 3rd grade, children are taught the skills that enable them to understand and find meaning in what they read and take advantage of the learning opportunities in fourth grade and beyond. These skills include phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary and text comprehension. Youngsters can acquire these skills at your local library when they participate in story times and summer reading programs.

In general, summer reading programs are innovative and well thought out with program benefits that include:

•   Access to books and time devoted to reading
•   gratifying and successful reading experiences
•   positive impacts on performance in the following school year

Summer library reading programs help close the achievement gap and continue to have an impact as students continue in school. A 2001 study by the Los Angeles County Public Library Foundation found that not only did children in SRPs spend more time looking at and reading books, 11 percent of the parents of children in summer library programs reported they increased the time they spent reading with or to their children up to fifteen hours or more a week. Teachers contacted as part of the Los Angeles study found that the difference between students who participated in summer library programs and those who did not was readily apparent the following fall. The most dramatic difference was that participants were much more enthusiastic about reading. The teachers reported that 31 percent of SRP participants had maintained or improved their reading skills compared to only 5 percent of non-participants.

It has also been found that the number of books read can make a difference. Studies indicate reading at least 4-6 books over the summer helps readers maintain their skills, and reading 10-20 helps readers improve their skills.

Other research stressed the importance of allowing readers to select their own books based on their interests. It is not so important what kind of material middle school students read, only that they do read over the summer.

What makes summer library programs so powerful? They offer a variety of activities and a range of reading materials to accommodate diverse learners and learning styles. They often allow or encourage readers, especially those who are struggling, to use alternate formats such as magazines, recorded books, graphic novels, and material on the Internet. This is important because students read things that are important to them socially. This explains the popularity of reading items related to movies and books that are popular with their friends. Think the “Harry Potter” effect from a couple of years ago. Public library programs also meet the personal and social needs of youth and help them feel safe, cared for, useful and valued. That is why librarians make an effort to encourage children to keep up with their reading and to call and give reminders to those who need to increase the number of books on their reading logs. These personal reminders and support encourage young readers to meet their summer goals.

Successful programs involve collaborative, advanced planning with community stakeholders to establish broad support for the program. Planning begins well in advance to secure the funding and needed resources. Successful programs involve strategic community partnerships that are mutually beneficial and enhance the mission of all the partners. Be sure to say thanks to this year’s SRP sponsors by patronizing their establishments. Finally, successful summer learning programs have a clear focus on sustainability and cost effectiveness. The results of the program are regularly communicated to the stakeholders. In Elbert County this will occur at the “Business after Hours” event to be hosted by the libraries on September 9, 2010.

Model summer library programs often use a thematic approach such as this year’s “Wet & Watery” theme of the Elbert County Library District (, include hands-on science and art activities, and often involve field trips to a location other than where the program is held. And, there is often collaboration with the local schools.

Attendance is important to preventing learning loss and many libraries use incentives at various levels to encourage children to keep reading and award end of program prizes as a magnet to attract children to programs.

Finally, one of the major benefits of summer library programs is that they provide quality learning activities that are fun and encourage some of the best techniques important to the reading process. As a result, 8 out of 10 studies indicate students who read recreationally out performed their peers who did not read in their leisure time. Free voluntary reading is essential to helping students become better readers, writers, and spellers. Voluntary reading helps students develop vocabulary, understand sophisticated phrases, and complex oral and written language. It exposes them to a wide range of topics. Students who don't read for pleasure tend to have difficulty developing language and literacy competencies.

Looking for a way to have a positive impact on someone for the rest of their life? Enroll your child in the SRP and consider volunteering at your local library. You could even help with the summer reading programs.

About the author: Fred Beisser, a long-time resident of NW Elbert County is president of the Elbert County Libraries Foundation ( ) and a trustee of the Elbert County Library District ( ).

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Elbert County Libraries Foundation enhances the library district by raising, managing and allocating funds to expand and improve the facilities, programs and services of its libraries. On the Web:
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