Thoughts on Summer Reading Programs
As my own library’s summer reading program draws to a close, I find myself thinking about how mixed my feelings are about the entire enterprise. I read constantly as a child, and saw no distinction between the reading I did during the school year and the reading I did during the summer: to me, it was all one big, wordy, pleasure cruise. And in theory, I have no beef with the idea of holding an organized program designed to encourage children to read during the summer. I understand that summer reading programs are an important part of preventing learning losses, and obviously, I am in favor of a program that so many children & their families enjoy and get something out of.
However. I don’t love the competitive nature of most SRPs – the frequent comparisons of reading logs, in particular, make me very uncomfortable on behalf of reluctant readers, who get enough grief already from parents and teachers. And at the same time, I think only the already-avid readers are the ones who get the most out of it, who discover a new author to read or a new character to identify with. Basically, although library-based SRPs can benefit all children, they seem to reward most the ones who are already big into reading, not those who could most use some gentle, pressure-free encouragement.
I should point out that this year, my library adopted a reading log and reward system I really do like. Instead of using the traditional, quantity-based format requiring the participants (or more likely, their parents) to fill out a log with the title and author of the books read, we used a connect-the-dots (la-la-la-la-la) format, where each dot represented 10 minutes of reading. Participating kids brought back their maps and received tokens for each hour of reading completed, and are now redeeming their tokens for prizes. I like the focus on small, manageable increments of time set aside for reading. I like that the focus is not on how many books, magazines, or cereal boxes each child has read, but on the time they spent reading. And I like that pre-literate children can keep track of their reading, because anyone who can wield a crayon can fill out these maps. They’re inclusive & accessible, and that’s one of the points we’re trying to make, right?
Another aspect of the SRPs is the school-recommended Summer Reading Assignments List. There’s been a great deal of discussion on YALSA-BK scroll down a bit for subscription instructions) recently about these lists, about how best to collect them from the school districts we serve, about how old and stale and out of print and frankly unappealing so many of the titles on the lists are, about how some parents seem to use the lists as an instrument of torture for their kids. There’s also been a lot of talk about how some school districts are soliciting the input of their school media specialists to freshen up their lists with new classics. A few prime examples were posted to YALSA-BK by Connecticut State Library’s Consultant for Children’s & Youth Services Linda Williams (who is also the author of a very fine article on Summer Reading Lists, excerpted hereand include New Canaan High School, Glastonbury High School, and Windsor High School, all of Connecticut. (Of course, even these spiffed up to date lists have their detractors. You can’t please everyone.
Johns Hopkins University’s Center for Summer Learning, also linked by Linda Williams, boasts a wealth of useful research, conference workshop information, handouts, and presentations. The major message? Effective Summer Reading Programs are cooperative efforts among schools, libraries, and families:
Summer learning should be a community-wide, inter-agency priority. There are a wide variety of roles that public agencies, community-based organizations, cultural institutions, and colleges and universities can play in improving the quality and quantity of summer learning opportunities for all young people. Improved collaboration and leveraging of funds from multiple sources will help ensure greater levels of access to programs.