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Area summer reading programs are for more than children

The library is 6-year-old Ella Rawson’s “favorite thing.” Her mom, Tiffany Rawson, takes her and her three siblings to the library often, especially in the summer.

At the Salt Lake City Public Library, Ella and her siblings can participate in a variety of activities, such as the summer reading program.

Summer reading programs are offered at most area libraries, and participants can report their reading for prizes. Most libraries also offer a variety of activities, such as robotics camps and a wind tunnel display, something the Rawson kids love.

“Most of the state libraries go together and work cooperatively on developing themes for summer reading so that we can capitalize on sharing of resources and we’re not all re-creating the wheel,” said Donna Jones Morris, the Utah state librarian.

This year’s nationwide summer reading program theme is “On Your Mark, Get Set … READ!”

The theme was chosen by representatives from most states who gather with the Collaborative Summer Reading Program, said Sharon Deeds, Utah’s youth services coordinator.

While individual libraries may implement the programs differently, most libraries in Utah have summer reading programs that center on the theme.

Summer slide

Summer reading programs are particularly important for children and teens who will be returning to school in the fall because reading prevents summer reading loss, Deeds said.

Also called “summer slide,” summer reading loss occurs when students do not read over the summer and, as a result, are no longer at grade level when they start school again in the fall.

According to research by the California Library Association, “reading just five books over the summer can prevent learning loss.”

“It’s a matter of participating and keeping those reading skills going,” Morris said.

CLA researchers also found that summer reading loss is cumulative and by the end of sixth grade, students who have consistently lost reading skills over the summer could be two years behind their peers, according to the organization's "Why Summer Reading Programs Matter" information sheet.

Tiffany Rawson of Bountiful signs her four children up for summer reading so they can keep practicing their reading skills.

“It’s important because it allows them to keep progressing,” she said.

The program also motivates her kids because they know they will get a reward at the end. The program allows them to set goals specific to their different skill levels.

Ella Rawson understands the importance of reading.

“If you don’t practice to read,” the 6-year-old said, “when you’re a grown-up then you won’t know how to read, and then you won’t teach your kids, and then they won’t teach their kids.”

Reading for fun

For the summer reading programs, the librarians emphasized kids can read what they want.

“The key is reading for pleasure,” Deeds said. “The more they enjoy reading, the more they want to read.”

She added that reading for pleasure — whether that is with books, graphic novels, magazines or audio books — can help build confidence in reading and enhance students’ formal education.

Deeds cited information from "The Power of Reading" by Stephen Krashen, emeritus professor of education at the University of Southern California, that “reading as a leisure activity is the best predictor of comprehension, vocabulary and reading speed.”

“An easy way to get a kid excited (about reading) is (to) match the reading material to their interests,” said Derek Braeden from the Salt Lake City Public Library communications department. For example, if a child is “on a dinosaur trend,” they will likely like a book about dinosaurs.

Nonfiction books can be appealing for young readers, said Liesl Johnson, the children service coordinator at the Salt Lake City Public Library.

“Librarians are a great resource for recommending books to people who have varying interests,” Johnson said. “Some kids … say that they don’t like to read, but we just believe that they haven’t found the book for them yet. And we’re really good at helping them find that book.”

Many of the libraries also have a variety of other activities this summer that aren’t reading-based. But the activities still support the summer reading program, said Nyssa Fleig, the library program manager for the Salt Lake County library system.

For the 18 Salt Lake County libraries, the summer reading program has five elements for which participants can receive credit: reading, doing something outside, learning something new, visiting a library and helping children learn to read.

In addition to the library’s summer reading programs, there are several other options to choose from. One other program is “Read Today,” sponsored by KSL and the governor.

Family activities

Summer reading programs are for more than children as there are programs for adults, too.

“Parents can sign up with their kids and show that, 'Hey, we’re completing this together. Hey, it’s reading time for the day. I’m going to read while you read,'” Braeden said.

It’s important for children to see their parents reading, said Deeds.

“A lot of research actually shows that if parents read in front of their children, it will provide good modeling for the little ones,” Johnson said. “They’ll grow up considering it to be an activity with value that it’s a fun thing to do and that it’s something grown-ups do.”

The Urban Libraries Council, which works with some of the largest libraries in the country, reported that reading together as a family can strengthen family bonds, Morris said.

Many of the libraries have also partnered with other groups in Utah. The Salt Lake County library system has partnered with the Natural History Museum, and participants in the summer reading program can receive tickets to visit the museum on library days.

The Utah State Library has partnered with the Utah Educational Savings Plan for the Book Your Summer program where participants 18 and under can be eligible to win one of four $1,000 scholarships for higher education.

A 'part of something'

Last year, more than 100,000 children signed up for summer reading programs in Utah, Deeds said. Fleig said in just the Salt Lake County system, over 20,000 individuals signed up, and they hope to increase that number this year.

“It’s good for kids to know that they’re part of something,” Tiffany Rawson said. Morris said it is exciting to see so many kids come together to sign up and participate in the activities.

“I think that the most important thing about the summer reading is it keeps the enthusiasm of the readers up over the summer with different activities and it gives them a stimulating reason to come back to the library,” Morris said.

The excitement and joy that comes with the program is a favorite part for many of the librarians.

“Readers can get involved by visiting their local public library and asking to sign up for the summer reading program,” Deeds said. “It’s pretty easy.”

For those who have never been to their library, Deeds encourages them to use the internet to find a library or give any library a call. She said the librarians at any library can direct patrons to the library nearest them.

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Tips for parents to encourage reading

• Visit the public library on a regular basis throughout the year

• Have books, magazines and other literacy materials in the home

• Have fun with reading; point out print everywhere

• Encourage reading every day

• Read aloud to your children

• Let your children see you reading

• Let your children choose their own books

• Ask questions and talk about the books your children are reading

Source: Sharon Deeds, Utah youth services coordinator

Email: mmcinnes@deseretnews.com