Five Myths About Summer Reading

by Jan Silvano, Head Librarian

Summertime! At the end of a school year, this word holds such promise! Fun, excitement, relaxation, travel, and TIME! We relish that idea of more time…to do what we want, when we want; time without the constraints of the school schedule and all the other demands that school makes on us. Throw into this idyllic scenario: summer reading.

Yes, The Langley School expects students to read daily, all summer long. Students’ responses to summer reading range from “Great! I have more time to try the books I didn’t get to!” to “Do I HAVE to?” to “I WILL! Just stop nagging me!” and everything in between.

As a librarian, reading is an integral part of my life. In fact, right now I’m looking forward to finishing the young adult version of Laura Hillenbrand’s Unbroken after I read The Washington Post sports section articles about the U.S. Open at Chambers Bay. When I have more time, I choose to read…but many of us do not.

Speaking of The Washington Post, maybe you enjoy, as I do, the “5 Myths” column in the Sunday outlook section. I propose my own version with: “Five Myths About Summer Reading.” I hope they offer some food for thought.

  1. Schools should require students to read specific titles.

Consult the research. Choice is essential. Students are more invested in reading when they choose their books: authors and genres they find interesting; information in all formats; challenging books; books that are fluff; books already read; blogs that make them question; magazine articles that spark conversations with you. At Langley, many of our students create “Wanna Read” lists in May for their vacation reading selections. The library provides a list of websites that guides your child to quality fiction and non-fiction recommendations. Explore the options with them. Talk it over. Maybe the following will happen in your home this July:

Student: “What should I read next?”

Parent: “Let’s look at the lists on CampusNet for some ideas. You know, I checked out a new book yesterday when we were at the library, one of Mr. Willis’ recommendations!”

Student: “Yeah! I was impressed, Dad! I haven’t tried any that my friends suggested; they just read dystopias…everybody loved Insurgent but me…”

Parent: “Really? I thought you liked The Giver when you read it with Mrs. Gustin in LA. Let’s try the NCSS website.”

  1. Schools should motivate summer reading with incentives.

Surely not a pizza party? How about a Barnes & Noble gift card (choose a new book!)? A little external motivator, every now and again, can go a long way. For example, at Langley in September, the fourth- and fifth-graders’ summer reading times are tallied. The grade with the most minutes is recognized at a Lower School assembly. The “winning” grade is rewarded with 1) kudos from their peers and teachers; 2) a set of books for the grade to share; 3) pride in their accomplishment; and 4) improved vocabulary, fluency, comprehension; enhanced cultural references; exposure to intricate plots; and introductions to amazing characters.

  1. Schools should require students to do a project or hand in a report about their summer reading.

At Langley, we provide print and digital reading logs for our older students so they can document the amount of time they read, each day and each week. This is a more process-oriented approach. Reading can’t be crammed; absorbing text cannot be rushed; and reading takes effort. Watching people read is not very exciting. Yet, if we could take pictures of what is happening inside the mind of a reader – their imagination, their experiences, the impact on their interior life, their feelings – now that would be a pretty exciting project to hand in.

  1. Summer reading just happens; either kids read or they don’t.

Yes, many kids choose to read of their own volition. But many others don’t. There are hundreds of options competing for our students’ attentions. Yet when it comes to any skill a person wants to perfect, it is about intention; about practice; about honing a life-long habit; about having an objective and working toward it by carving out dedicated time to achieve it.

  1. Reading takes time.

This is no myth. Reading – fall, winter, spring, and summer – is a skill that requires practice and time. By making the commitment to each word, page, chapter, article, book – and by making time daily – students and parents will arrive together at a positive summer reading experience. It is our job, the parents and educators, to create the environment, supply the materials, model the expectations, and inspire our kids to get going.

Happy reading!

The Reading Experience

By Jan Silvano, Head Librarian

Stories and books…they conjure up memories as varied and personal as each individual’s experience. As parents, we may want to share our own love of reading with our child and are dismayed if he doesn’t take to it the way we did as children. We are so thrilled when that initial spark of independent reading ignites that we try to force abridged versions of Moby Dick on her. We express exasperation when he checks out the Alex Ovechkin biography yet again or she brings home Puppies and How to Care for Them for the third week in a row.

We are well intentioned! We want to encourage a love of reading in our child and are horrified to be met with resistance or downright defiance. What is meant to be an enjoyable source of common interest becomes a frustrating battleground of bargaining and negotiating: “If you read for 15 minutes, you can have the iPad back!”

There is a saying, “Single causality is simplistic,” and in the current climate of bits, bytes, tweets, polarized opinions, branding, and quick fixes, parents are hungry for “the one” easy solution. Alas, it is sad to say there is no “one” answer to the question, “How can I ensure that my child will ‘be a reader?’”

Educational research gives us these strategies. Make sure your child sees you reading. Have a variety of reading materials in the home that are easily accessible and available in a variety of formats. Talk about what you are reading with your child. If you have to read for work, describe the different kinds of reading you do as a grown-up. Discuss your own childhood reading experiences. Were you “a reader?” Maybe you weren’t. Maybe it was not an option you chose among the myriad of options competing for your time and attention – options that have increased enormously in the past 10, 15, or 20 years. Welcome to our own students’ experience!

The educational research is pretty unanimous when it comes to allowing your child to choose the books that interest him. He has to discover for himself the stories, subjects, and authors that motivate him, that nurture him, that help him develop his own sense of self. She will go through different phases, be drawn to a particular series, only read non-fiction, gobble up everything by a particular author, re-read favorites. It’s up to us, as parents and educators, to provide the forum for “courageous conversations,” to be available, and to support our children as they grow into evaluators and critical thinkers, navigating their way through the experience of the written word. That is our work.

Everyone reads for different reasons: to be informed, to be entertained, to be part of a community, to be seen to be reading. At Langley, all students have access to the school library. It is enlightening to witness the children as they make their book choices at each developmental level. Already by three and four years old, peer influence on the reading selections is in evidence. Non-readers, emerging readers, deep readers, struggling readers. Each child has a sense of what book she wants to choose when she comes into the library. It is the librarians’ job to guide, inspire, cajole, suggest, urge, badger, recommend, promote, and sometimes require depending on the curricular goal – but ultimately, peer influence wins out.

All is not lost. Children also sometimes want “the” book their dad read, or their aunt recommended, or their mom LOVES, or Mrs. Gustin says is a “must-read before you die,” or the biggest book, or the book of the movie/video game. Remember, a library is the place where a comprehensive collection exists to encourage independent free reading, with no strings attached, and the reading choices are made according to the interests of the reader.

Be assured: our Langley kids do read. They are excited and nourished by books, they love to read, and the annual Book Fair, December 9 and 10 in the Pat Bush Library, is one of the most popular and anticipated community events of the school year. Spend time with your young readers, be present with them (no screen between you), and read with them – at the Book Fair, at the school library, and at your public library.