Summer is a magical time for children. They get a vacation from school that seems almost endless. There is nothing to do except have fun. What a luxury it must be to find infinite ways of amusing themselves.
I remember my summers in the Deep South. After the first week or so of complete freedom, the thrill wore off. That escape from school and homework soon evolved into incessant boredom. It was too hot to play outside for long. In those days, we had only three television stations, whose summer offerings were nothing but soap operas and game shows. Ho-hum.
This time of year also presents a dreadful condition that is worse than boredom or the possibility of sun stroke. Young students begin a slow backward slide, losing much of what they learned in the grade just before they went on break. According to my friend, Qua Austin (board member of First Book of Columbus and Lowndes County), in the fall, teachers spend as much as two months making up for that drift.
In a study by the Harvard Graduate School of Education (June 2009), Professor James Kim wrote, “During the summer, in the absence of school, learning declines. Throughout these months, all children backslide in math — but in literacy, the gap between high and low socio-economic status children widens. Low-income students, who may not have the same level of access to books and literacy resources, tend to decline more than wealthier students.”
His suggestions include “modeling” or “scaffolding” (reading orally to children). These steps offer intervention strategies that can be used to keep students from falling farther behind over the summer.
The good news is that parents can help prevent this education gap by encouraging children to read as little as 15 to 20 minutes each day. And, you are not alone in the drive. Parents have comrades in this battle.
The Columbus-Lowndes Public Library offers reading programs for everyone. Our Books-A-Million store has a list of age-appropriate books, with a gift after reading six titles of thousands available. You might also check out MindShift.com (June 7) for “25 Books That Diversify Kids’ Reading.”
However, reading does not mean books alone. Every moment of the day presents opportunities. There is information on cereal boxes at breakfast, interesting stories in our local newspapers, and magazines are published on subjects from alchemy to Zanzibar. It would be impossible not to find something of interest.
Literacy is an equalizer. It transcends economics and class. Maya Angelou said, “Information helps you to see that you’re not alone. That there’s somebody in Mississippi and somebody in Tokyo who all have wept, who’ve all longed and lost, who’ve all been happy. So the library helps you to see, not only that you are not alone, but that you’re not really any different from everyone else.”
Of course, reading to children is not a totally selfless activity. Random House Books recently reported that reading for only six minutes a day can release adults’ stress levels by 68 percent.
Maya Angelou also wrote, “I admire people who dare to take the language, English, and understand it and understand the melody.” Let your mind hear the “melody” and poetry of language. It’s magic for the whole family.
Adele Elliott, a New Orleans native, moved to Columbus after Hurricane Katrina.