Encourage Young People to Have Fun and Learn at Museums and Libraries This Summer!

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By Don Wood, ALA Chapter Relations Office

For over 100 years, one of the most popular means to keep young people engaged in reading—and enjoy it!—is the summer reading program.

youths reading

Not only are they fun, but summer reading programs (SRPs) are particularly important to a young person's continuing education, according to the Public Library Association (PLA), a division of the American Library Association (ALA):

  • Reading gets better when you practice it;
  • Without SRPs, kids lose reading gains over summer. (Especially true for disadvantaged kids.);
  • SRP kids more likely to read well than non-SRP kids;
  • SRP kids read better than those who go to camp; and
  • SRP kids who visited libraries and did free reading gained more than those in a traditional language arts summer program.

In fact, students who don't read or engage in other educational opportunities can lose as much as 2.5 months of learning over the summer, according to the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS), the primary source of federal support for our nation's 122,000 libraries and 17,500 museums.

To thwart such a drastic setback to their education, not only can young people participate in summer reading programs, but they also can visit and participate in the thousands of other programs offered by museums and libraries throughout the country.

"We encourage families to participate in the low- and no-cost museum and library programs that are available in virtually every state," said IMLS Director Anne-Imelda M. Radice.

"The programs are so much fun. In addition to outstanding reading programs, museums and libraries offer arts and craft making, games, family nights, contests, and prizes. There are also visits by authors, story tellers, scientists, and educational entertainers."

To minimize children's summer learning loss, IMLS offers five tips for parents:

  1. Visit your local library and sign up your kids for the summer reading program;
  2. Read to and with your kids. Be an example to your kids by doing some reading yourself;
  3. Use the library to explore your child's interests. Ask the librarian how to find books, Web sites and other resources to nurture your child's curiosity;
  4. Plan low-cost, educational field trips to local parks, zoos, and museums; and
  5. Check out free programs and day camps at your local library or museum.

The ALA, the world's oldest and largest library association, also provides ideas, assistance, reading lists, and more to librarians and parents to help young people have both an educational and recreational summer. Indeed, ALA shares plenty of tips on how to encourage reading and engage readers of all ages.

youths reading

For parents of younger children, "Summer Reading and Learning for Children," by the Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC), another ALA division, links to a great deal of information, including "Why Summer Reading Is Important," "Tips/Resources for Parents," and "Recommended Reading Lists for Kids and Parents."

For parents of teens, the Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA), another ALA division, offers several resources to make summer reading fun, including "Librarians' Choice: 100 Super Summer Reads for Teens" and "Read-alikes for Summer 2008 Movies."

YALSA's "2008 Teens' Top Teen Nominations" encourages teens to read these selected works over the summer so they can vote online for their favorites during Teen Read Week (the third week of every October). The ten titles with the most votes become YALSA's official 2008 Teens' Top Ten list.

Although summer reading programs are not for every child, parents should also encourage their children who are independent readers to continue reading during the summer.

Independent readers may not be necessarily motivated by summer reading programs, but studies show they earn high marks in vocabulary, reading comprehension, verbal fluency, and general information, notes Bernice E. Cullinan in her article "Independent Reading and School Achievement."

If you want to your children to continue to read independently at home or to encourage them to do so, or if you want to encourage them to participate in a summer reading program, Cullinan points out that the most effective ways to promote reading include:

  • Access to varied material that appeals to all ages and tastes;
  • Active parent involvement;
  • Partnerships among community institutions; and
  • Collaboration among significant adults in students' lives.

Also keep in mind that during their summer break, young people may need to be shown the fun side of learning.

"Libraries and museums are . . . great place[s] to meet new friends and build social networks in person and online," Radice said. It's fun for everyone."

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