Florida students can exercise their reading skills over the summer through a free program at their public library.
The goal is to mitigate the summer reading loss that leaves some students two years below grade level by the time they reach middle school.
The program is helped by a collaborative effort among states to make more low-cost summer reading materials available to local libraries.
Librarians in Miami kicked off the “Dream Big, Read” program thanks to a federal grant. Charles Roig got things started by leading the kids in a song and dance session.
“Hopefully they leave with a joy of reading and interest in reading,” said Roig.
The program is designed to help students avoid what’s become known as the summer slide.
Children are treated to activities such as puppet shows and visits with zoo animals. The activities taking place at local libraries across Miami are fun, but books are always the main attraction.
Children who are old enough will write about what they’ve read. Some will leave with books in English or Spanish that they’ve checked out from the library.
There are prizes, too — such as an iPod or tickets to a Miami Dolphins football game. Each child gets one raffle ticket for every two hours spent reading.
“Anything that gets them excited about reading,” said Roig, “By offering them the prizes at the end of the summer, sometimes that just brings them in, gives them something to do and encourages them to read.”
Victoria Galan with the Miami-Dade Public Library says children from low-income families are the ones impacted the most.
“It can set them back tremendously, and so what we’re trying to do is to keep them engaged in learning, keep them engaged in reading,” said Galan, “so that when they start school in the fall, they are on par and the teacher doesn’t have to spend the first six weeks reviewing what they did last year.”
Research finds that children from low-income families are likely to lose a couple of months of reading skills over the summer. And the loss adds up year after year.
Galan said Miami is uniquely impacted by summer learning loss.
“We are a multicultural community, so children who are already struggling to read because of a language barrier are going to get further behind,” said Galan.
While the summer months are a time to relax, have fun and learn new things, Galan said some children don’t have as many educational opportunities.
“Children who are coming from lower socioeconomic families who don’t have the ability to go and do things will fall further behind,” she said.
On the other hand, research shows that kids from higher income households do much better over the summer.
Rising second grader Owen Horton is visiting the Tallahassee Museum, a natural habitat zoo where kids play and learn. He said he reads a lot, books like Fly Guy, Green Eggs and Ham, and Spiderman.
“We have plenty of books at home,” said Owen.
That makes him one of the kids who may actually make gains in reading this summer. His mom, Melinda Horton, said they read together, especially during summer road trips.
“I think it gives us more time together instead of being on video games and watching TV. I think that we both learn together,” said Horton.
The Horton family falls in line with findings presented by the National Summer Learning Association. Those findings show that middle class kids tend to retain what they’ve learned in reading because their parents are able to keep them engaged through summer camps and other means.
Parents should read with their children daily, according to Stuart Greenberg. He directs early learning programs at the Florida Department of Education.
“We encourage parents to sit with their children 15 to 20 minutes a night, listen to them read and ask them to share what are they thinking as they read an enjoyable book,” said Greenberg.
Research from Harvard University shows kids must be able to access a variety of books that match their reading level and interests. But most importantly, children need an adult guiding their choices and making sure they understand what they read.