Why would we not let kids choose their own summer reading material?
The idea that we, as adults, would presume to know what kids want to read while they are out enjoying the freedom from the confines of their schools is absurd to me.
Maybe it is because of my generation.
I never had a summer reading list growing up. Teachers did not preemptively assign work to be done over the summer to ready us for the following year (I am sure some of my peers would have benefited from such an exercise; I know far too many people who have not picked up a novel since high school), but I wonder if it would have made much of a difference. I mean kids who want to read are going to read, right? I always did. In fact, you had to encourage me to do anything else in the summer months. But maybe kids like me are not the ones who need the summer homework.
According to Erin Kelly, a fourth year paediatrics resident at the University of Rochester Medicinal Unit, kids who are not reading during their summer months lose a whole month worth of reading achievement. Children in low-income families, in particular, are at risk. The lack of available resources for these students often leads to what is referred to as The Summer Slide, a dropping off point in academics and a catalyst for poor achievement across academic disciplines in the future.
One way to curb these dismal results is to assign summer reading. Sounds easy enough, maybe to some it even sounds enjoyable. But wait, there is a catch- schools and teachers have been assigning books that they want kids to read, and in return, expect their students to write an essay about them before the fall semester begins.
I am a teacher. I am a student. I am a voracious reader. I think this idea stinks.
Assigning homework, particularly of the expositional variety, is a sure fire way to discourage reading. Summer is a time to get outside, play, get creative and blow off academic steam. Adding books that kids are not excited about does not help.
I think summer reading is a great idea. I wish all kids read, regardless of the season, with as much gusto as I always have. My own son, who is in grade one, could do with some of his mother’s scholarship. He is not a book-nerd like me; and nine times out of ten he would rather play soccer, karate chop his sister, or defeat King Bowser on his 3DS. But even in the summer he does read, and the way I encourage him to pick up a book is by letting him pick it out himself.
Do I wish he were already reading Beverly Cleary novels like I was when I was his age? Sure. Am I going to discourage him from getting to that novella stage by rejecting Star Wars stories and Scooby Doo mystery comics? Absolutely not! The reason he meets his summer reading goal every year is because he gets to choose the books he is destined to spend time with over his precious summer months.
His school also offers a terrific reading program. I guess it is, in its own way, assigned summer reading. But there is an awesome catch: before the summer books are shipped out, the students have to fill out a survey detailing exactly what they like to read. Lo and behold, when the books come in the mail, the kids are excited to see them. The books are unlikely to be filled with tremendous literary merit and there are not any classics. But there are some terrific Garfield cartoons, secret agent super spies, and books about dragons or hockey. That is why my son likes to read in the summer. It’s his time, so the books better have him written all over them.
All kids should have this luxury. The sad truth, however, is that this is not the case. It is the exception, not the rule, and I firmly believe that with this sort of opportunity more children would be eager to read.
What shocks me is that our society is relying on case studies to prove that reading retention improves when children select their own material. Shouldn’t we know this intrinsically?! This is not an academic issue. This is a personal issue. Adults rarely spend their time reading the things they don’t want to. Why should kids?
Let’s let children choose their own books, then when teachers want them to write an essay, that essay will be filled with an analysis worthy of an erudite, literary child; not the ramblings of a kid who would rather be outside as far away from books and academia as possible.