VOICES: Pair reading lists with visits to local sites to give your kids a literacy boost this summer

In our house, summer vacation brings a welcome break from packing lunches, remembering homework, and shuttling kids to sports. But in addition to the freedom, a little guilt can sneak in about how the kids are spending that abundance of free time. A mom can’t help but wonder, is there a tablet time threshold that directly contributes to summer slide in which students lose ground academically while they’re out of school?

This seems especially relevant considering the news is full of stories about effective and ineffective ways to ensure kids become strong readers. Governor Mike DeWine has called on all Ohio schools to focus on the science of reading, moving literacy rates to the first item in his January State of the State address. Conversations about the science of reading, or what the research tells us about how kids learn to read, often focus on phonics, the relationship between letters and sounds. That’s vital, but it’s also important to help students develop background knowledge to support reading comprehension and wide reading habits so they are set up for long-term success once they’ve mastered the basic skills. My daughters are 9 and 11 and, like many kids their age, they prefer an entertaining graphic novel about the perils of middle school over something their mom suggests would be a great way to build knowledge of the world.

With that in mind, I’ve devised a plan to sneak literacy-rich knowledge building into our summer plans, taking advantage of local resources in the Dayton area.

A 5th grade field trip to DOD’s StarBase sparked my older daughter’s interest in space. I decided to capitalize on this by collecting a number of picture books about space exploration from the Dayton Metro Library. These books deepened her interest and raised her sister’s curiosity. Some favorite titles included Starry Messenger: Galileo Galilei by Peter Sis and Moonshot by Brian Floca.

As kids learn more about a topic, they build vocabulary and background knowledge that allow them to read even harder books. My plan includes taking advantage of the library to request longer non-fiction books like Who Was Galileo? by Patricia Demuth and the Hidden Figures Young Readers’ Edition by Margot Lee Shetterly. Additionally, middle school readers like my daughter often enjoy applying this background knowledge to historical fiction chapter books related to space exploration such as We Dream of Space by Erin Entrada Kelly.

We can connect and expand this reading to real-life experiences by playing tourist in our own community and visiting local sites. The Boonshoft Museum of Discovery has a planetarium as well as an astronomy collection that includes a replica of Galielleo’s telescope, one of only four in the world modeled from the original. Check out the Boonshoft website at boonshoft.org for information about discounted tickets or free admission days.

The National Museum of the Air Force is always free and includes a space exhibit in which visitors can walk onto a full-size representation of a NASA space shuttle. A visit to either of these places could also be used to launch kids into reading about space. If we really wanted to expand our reach, we could take short road trips to the Neil Armstrong or John Glenn museums.

Reading books and experiencing activities about that topic helps kids develop and deepen their background knowledge and vocabulary, two essential elements for becoming strong readers. If you have trips planned this summer, think about books you can bring along and educational stops you can make along the way. If you’re staying closer to home, take advantage of all our area has to offer. Your kids will think it’s fun, and their teachers will thank you when they come back to school in the fall ready to learn and having avoided the summer slide.

Sarah Webb is the Director of ELA for Great Minds. She previously taught in Mad River Local Schools and lives with her family in Kettering.

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