Summer vacation for Tennessee's students is upon us. It’s a time when children can enjoy being outdoors, playing video games or doing any of the other fun things they like to do. It’s also a time when they often forget a significant portion of what they learned in school the year before.
That’s right. Research has shown that, on average, students lose the equivalent of one month of instruction time from the academic year preceding summer break. For some students, the loss may be even greater – in some cases, up to three months.
This phenomenon is sometimes referred to by educators as “the summer slide” or “summer set back.” And its effects are cumulative and long lasting. Each year, students fall further and further behind on the knowledge base they should be developing as they progress through school.
Speaking as a parent, this “two steps forward, one step back” approach to education isn’t what I want for my children – and I think most other parents would agree.
Fortunately, there is a way to combat summer slide. Studies have shown that children who keep their minds engaged by reading during the summer months are better prepared when school resumes in the fall. And summer reading programs are available at about 280 public libraries across Tennessee.
These programs vary from library to library. Most offer children opportunities to receive prizes in exchange for reading certain numbers of books. Some also feature story hours, creative arts, performances, science experiments, cooking classes and other special events. Some libraries have summer reading programs geared towards teenagers and adults as well as younger children.
These summer reading programs offer participants free entertainment in safe and climate-controlled (read: air conditioned) environments.
They provide access to new books and e-books that participants might not be able to find or afford from other sources.
They provide opportunities for shared community experiences.
Summer reading programs are promoted across the United States by the National Collaborative Summer Learning Program, which prepares children for success through the development of language skills and integrates different literacy activities to motivate young adults to read and discuss books.
Each year, there is a different theme for summer reading – and this year’s general theme is science. While the program isn’t limited to science-related books, that will be an area of emphasis of the programs at many of the participating libraries.
I am proud that, through the Tennessee State Library and Archives and the Tennessee Regional Library System, my office is able to promote summer reading in three different ways:
• We provide financial support by purchasing program manuals and summer reading materials for libraries throughout the state.
• We provide education in the form of online resource pages, webinars, training sessions and a statewide summer reading conference to give librarians opportunities to share programming ideas, theme resources, information about national trends and more.
• We also collect data about summer reading programs across the state to assist libraries in sharing resources and identifying trends that can be helpful to them in the future.
The bottom line is that summer reading programs are fun, free and they have educational benefits. That’s a winning combination.
So I encourage you to contact your local library and find out about its summer reading program. It’s time well spent.
Tre Hargett is Tennessee’s Secretary of State.