EdNews Parent recently interviewed Caroline Hughes, early literacy senior librarian at the Denver Public Library, about how to encourage language and literacy skills over the summer.
Q. Why is it important to focus on literacy over the summer?
A. Summertime is this fabulous time. Kids have lots of extra time on their hands. It’s a great time to explore all sorts of reading interests and opportunities. Summertime is traditionally when children step away from reading and lose a lot of their reading and language skills.
Q. Can you recommend some good books for early readers?
A.“The Green Line” is about taking a walk outside. You can tie this to your real life. Go on a nature walk, go into the mountains and talk about what you see, ask them to tell you what they know. Non-fiction books are very popular with boys. There are now attractive, interesting non-fiction books for early readers. You might check out the website guysread.com for more ideas. The most important thing is to find books your children are interested in; let them choose.
Q. What if your child chooses the same book over, and over, and over?
A. This is a good thing! If they choose the same book over and over, you are doing an excellent job of promoting print motivation…as much as that can torture you sometimes. They are experiencing a real love of books when this happens! Repetition also helps give children a sense of mastery. It is also reinforcing important pathways in the young brain. Children instinctively know this and seek repetition out.
Q. Should parents require their children to read every day?
A. My number one piece of advice is to keep reading fun. Don’t make it a requirement, but frequently find ways to encourage it. Find a time, such as after a bath or at bedtime, when your child is slowing down naturally. Or maybe in the car, when you’re running errands, take books with you. Maybe they only read for 10 minutes. Maybe you are sitting down with them and reading every other page in a chapter book. They’re never too old for that. What motivates them is time with you. If you can find time and make reading a special thing, even if you’re reading a recipe or a newspaper, or writing a letter together to the grandparents, all these things help promote literacy over the summer.
Q. My son only wants to play video games. How can I get him to read books?
A. If a child is really interested in watching cartoons or video games about super heroes, for instance, then find books about super heroes. If their games are about spies and mysteries, try to find books with the same elements. Ask your children to draw you pictures of what is happening in the video game and then have them describe the drawing.
Q. My daughter loves comic books. Is this bad for literacy?
A. Comic books are really hot right now. We have a huge selection. Even if they’re not literary classics, comic books are still a great way to help your child stay engaged. Singing is another great way to build language skills. On long car rides, it can be tempting to get out video games, but try singing songs or playing games that build receptive and expressive language skills. Ask questions that are not “yes” or “no.” try playing “I Spy” or “In My Grandmother’s Trunk” – games that keep you engaged as a family.
Q. I feel guilty when I sit down with a book. I feel like I should be playing with my kids.
A. The number one predictor of lifelong reading is seeing your parents reading and enjoying reading. Don’t feel guilty getting out your summer reads or magazines. They need to see you reading.
Q. What are some other ways to motivate kids to read?
A. Try setting up book clubs. Boys and girls enjoy this. It’s making reading relevant to their everyday life that’s really important. Most children enjoy activities even more if they are embedded in social activities such as book clubs.
Children love pop-up books. Babies love board books with photos of babies. It’s OK if they chew on the books, they’re having a good time. Books like “Where Is Baby’s Belly Button?” give them something to do with the book. Books with songs in them are fun; older kids like singing, too. Folk stories, such as “The Little Red Hen” build narrative skills. Children begin to see that stories have patterns. Rhyming books also capture the hearts of young readers. Children tend to be more interested in books that reflect their own lives, such as issues at school or with friends. Also, choose books that have characters who resemble your family and community and reflect diverse cultural traditions.
Q. What is the Denver Public Library’s summer reading program all about?
A. The summer reading program offers programs and activities in English and Spanish. Preschool-aged children and families who do certain activities promoting language skills, such as reading or singing, qualify to get prizes, such as backpacks, books or tickets to Elitch Gardens. Older children must read for at least three hours before qualifying for a prize. Teens can also participate and even have their name entered in a drawing for an iPod Shuffle or Dell laptop. The goal of these games is to keep everyone in the family reading.