Taking Education on the Road for the Summer

JennyGranger1Nothing spells summer like  bbqs, baseball, pool parties . . .  and kids who forget how to, well, spell.

It’s a problem every teacher and parent is faced with this time of year: how to avoid the dreaded backslide in academic skills over the next three months.

And for many parents, the idea of constructing lesson plans for the summer is nothing short of debilitating. My husband and I aren’t there yet with Baby M but I watch so many of my parent friends go through it.

The school year is the marathon of all marathons for teachers and parents alike. By the end of May, you’re finished. Done. You’ve finally dragged yourself across the finish line. The last thing you want to do is plan out a summer curriculum bursting with thoughtful educational activities and mind-stimulating experiences. And even those well-intentioned, type A parents who take the bull by the horns often find themselves fading by the fourth of July.

There are just too many distractions during the summer – too much sun, hot dogs, idle time. Kids lose valuable skills over the summer. And when school resumes teachers often spend the first few weeks trying to play catch-up. It’s not until about a month into the school year when teachers can start tackling new concepts.

The learning backslide affects all kids regardless of their economic status, though it takes a greater toll on those who are economically disadvantaged.  It’s said that low-income students can lose more than two months of reading achievement each summer. And what’s worse is that the consequences are cumulative; they compound summer over summer contributing to the achievement gap that exists between high and low socioeconomic classes.  In short, it’s not good.

What is good, though, is reading throughout the summer. Experts agree that those who read gain skills while those who don’t slide further back.

Jenny Granger, a librarian at Emerson Elementary in Snohomish, Washington – and one of our 2015 LifeChanger of the Year winners – has known this for a long time.  In 2012 she decided to do something about it. Her vision was to make reading more accessible to students over the summer break and she did this by creating a summer reading program, which included opening the school library during the warmer months.

Since then the program has only grown. In 2013 she decided that having summer hours alone wasn’t enough. She wanted to bring the books to the kids. Jenny partnered with Kids Café, a summer feeding program funded by the federal government and run by the Snohomish School District. That summer she spent countless hours in an old van delivering hundreds of books to Kids’ Café locations.

Here’s the part of the story I love most: In 2014, Jenny retrofitted the inside of an old school bus to create a mobile library.  Shelves replaced seats, the old stop sign was replaced with a new “read” sign and eyelashes were even secured to the headlights. Kids love her. She’s become the modern equivalent of the ice cream truck driver in her community.

Jenny has figured out how to make reading accessible, fun and part of these kids’ weekly routines. She is helping to close that achievement gap in the Snohomish District.

Sadly, not all communities have a Jenny Granger or a tricked-out school bus library. But breathe easy because there are ways to keep the reading momentum up this summer.

Here are some ideas I have thrown together based on what we do with our toddler coupled with what some of my friends do with their older children.

  1. Start reading at an early age. It’s never too early to start reading. Our little guy has always loved books – we just make them age appropriate.
  2. Make books accessible. We always have a book or two in our backseat and baby M loves to look through them on our daily commute. We keep a book in the beach bag, too.
  3. Start a book club. One of my neighbors does this and I think it’s a great idea. Each week a small group of kids get together to share some of their favorite books while the parents share a few laughs on the back porch.
  4. Book swap. Take the idea of the book club a step further and do a regular swap or book rotation.
  5. Read to their interests. What does your kid love most about summer? The beach? Baseball? Buy books on these subjects.
  6. Make it fun. Plan a weekly library trip followed up with a stop at the local ice cream stand. My friend does this with her eight year old daughter. It’s the one thing she really looks forward to each week.
  7. Model good reading behavior. Whether you love a good romance, mystery, self-help or juicy magazine, read in front of your kids. They will notice.
  8. Take time to read aloud regularly.  We do this every night before bed. Sometimes Mason sits attentively on my lap. Sometimes he’d rather play with a toy next to me. Regardless, we keep reading every night.