When it comes to children, summer reading has a more serious purpose than simply a diversion for the beach. In her classic study conducted in 1978, Barbara Heyns, a New York University sociologist, examined the impact of summer reading on 3,000 middle school students in Atlanta’s public schools. She found that children who read at least six books during the summer months maintained or improved their reading skills, while kids who didn’t read at all saw their reading skills decrease by as much as an entire grade level — the infamous “summer slide.” Summer reading also systematically increased students’ vocabulary test scores, regardless of the student’s socioeconomic status.
Such findings have been consistently replicated over the years and a recent study at Dominican University again found that children who participated in summer programs scored approximately half a grade level higher in reading than their peers who do not. Also, instead of losing knowledge and skills during the summer, participants routinely displayed improvement.
Library-based summer reading programs started more than 100 years ago and today more than 95 percent of public libraries offer them. Such programs can also provide multiple benefits for adults. They nurture a sense of community and promote social interaction with friends and neighbors, they encourage reading for pleasure, reduce stress, set an example for young people, sharpen reading and language skills, and provide opportunities for lifelong learning. These activities are especially beneficial for elders and recent immigrants.
More and more, summer reading is electronic as people drag their tablets, Kindles and Nooks to the beach. Although about 75 percent of all my reading now consists of ebooks read on my iPad, I’ve still clung to my print books as a sort of a security blanket. Perhaps that’s why I was interested in reading about Stanley Fish, a professor at Florida International University, who recently wrote a column in the New York Times about how he managed to sell off his paper books. He had amassed his large library over his 50 years in higher education. The professed reason for Fish’s downsizing was his move to smaller quarters.