Twenty years ago, the summer our family moved to Summerville, the park on Laurel Street was a favorite with my four children. It was the tall slide that attracted my littles. Towering over the azalea bounded sandy yard, it horrified me as their mother. My youngest, the twins, would climb slowly and carefully up the steep ladder. Sometimes these curly heads would slide down on their own. But usually I would have to climb up the slide to convince one of the boys that he would safely make it to the ground below.

A slide is often associated with the carefree days of summer vacation when children are out of school. But schoolteachers have another view of this piece of playground equipment. They call it “The Summer Slide” or what happens when a child does not read over the summer. Without the necessary practice of at least 20 minutes a day, a student’s reading level slides or decreases.

What family wants to hear about “The Summer Slide” when the kids are just finishing up the school year? Everyone in the house is tired. It will be so nice not to worry about reading logs to sign and Reading Counts tests to take. By Memorial Day at schools, reading has become mostly about data collection: Lexile, DRA, and SC Ready scores. In other words, reading has morphed into a quest for numbers. It is no wonder that some families are tempted to use summer break as a break from reading. To make matters worse, there are some students who reach the end of the school year either behind in their reading ability or dangerously close to being. Their families are facing a summer of either reading camp or tutoring.

Is it even possible that reading can be a carefree summer activity? The answer to this question is yes. The whole family needs to make a commitment to enjoyable reading over the summer by following a few simple guidelines.

1. Allow children to choose what they read.

Research supports that students who choose their own summer reading titles are more likely to improve or maintain their reading levels over the summer months. Of course, librarians, teachers, and websites such as www.Lexile.com are excellent resources for reading lists. But it is important to place the child’s personal interests always at the forefront when selecting books to read when it is hot outside. Only then will reading be fun to children. Sometimes this can be hard for parents who want to call the shots. But according to Erin Kelly in “Why We Should Let Kids Choose Their Own Summer Reading Books,” “if that means a few of them pick ‘Frozen’ rather than ‘Charlotte’s Web,’ that is a sacrifice we should be willing to make.” Be careful not to discount picture books for older students as many are written on an elevated reading level and require higher order thinking to read not only the words, but also the illustrations. Also encourage children to read books by authors whom they enjoy. I recall a summer my son read any Gary Paulsen book he could get his middle school hands on. This was the summer he became a lifelong reader. Any genres students find interesting are game for summer reading: fiction, nonfiction, magazines, and e-books. Add graphic novels to this mix, too. Kids love them and they keep children reading! Remember, too, that with nonfiction texts, children may only read the part of the book that interests them, not cover to cover. This is just fine because they are doing research! They are on their way to reading to learn which they will do the rest of their lives.

2. Read aloud to your children as well as listen to them read to you.

Reading aloud a chapter or two in a good book to kids each day in the summer will give your children a precious gift. It will help them prevent “The Summer Slide,” particularly because it is a fun way to increase their vocabulary. More importantly, reading aloud to your children creates a special bond with them. Even tweens and teens like this experience because they have the chance to simply listen to good stories. According to Melissa Taylor, “For many kids, being read to by their parents is a cherished ritual.”www.readbrightly.com/importance-of-reading-aloud-to-big-kids

If a child does have an assigned reading book over the summer, it can be powerful if the parent also reads the title. This provides an excellent opportunity for discussion between parent and child. I remember well the summer my daughter and I read and discussed Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson. For more detailed resources on guidelines for reading with children, visit www.ReadingRockets.org .

3. Read every day for at least 20 minutes.

This is especially important in the summer months because if a child does not practice reading daily, he or she will forget how. Some parents complain that their students need a break from reading over the summer. They believe that insisting their kids do daily summer reading makes their children dread it. Jim Trelease, author of The Read-Aloud Handbook, disagrees. He makes all of us think by asking: “Do you require your child to brush his teeth every day? How about changing his underwear or making his bed?” And are you afraid that because you require this when they are kids that they will stop doing these necessary things when they get to be adults? http://www.trelease-on-reading.com/summer-reading.pdf

A great way to keep kids reading every day is to get them involved in the Dorchester County Library Summer Reading Program called “A Universe of Stories.” This summer the library has lined up wonderful events and created an accessible reading contest running from June 1 to July 31. Library card holders can register for this program at the library or online at www.dcl.lib.sc.us. Weekly visits to the library are a great way for kids to reconnect with their school friends and pick out fun books to read at home.

4. Acquire books for your child to read.

In addition to the county library, children can find free books in a Little Free Library. A number of these beautifully decorated little boxes are scattered around the Summerville area. Children enjoy searching for books in these boxes which their stewards and patrons are always refilling with different titles. To find the Little Free Library nearest to you, access the map on www.littlefreelibrary.org. If you want to purchase used books for your child in our area, check out Good Will, Community Thrift Store, as well as Trade-a-Book. For new books, Main Street Reads on the Square carries children’s and young adult titles.

Enjoy books with your children – make it a reading summer full of books and stay away from that dangerous slide.

Ruth Aiken Owens is a reading teacher of third-graders in Dorchester District 2 school. She and her husband have four grown children and live in Summerville.