A mid the toys of summer, where do books fall? Under the bed? Behind the refrigerator? Or right beside the tennis racket or on top of that duffel bag packed for camp?
Books need to be part of every child's summer gear -- and reading one of the skills he practices along with curve balls, back strokes and cart wheels. Reading, like many other skills, improves with practice and diminishes without it.
Researchers say that if a child reads only six books during school vacation, he will maintain the reading skill he had when school let out. If he doesn't, he's likely to have some catching up to do come September.
But, wait a minute! This is vacation, parents say. After months of monitoring homework assignments and study habits, do they have to nag their kids about reading too?
Take them to the library? Perhaps.
Read to them? It's important; it can also be fun.
Encourage them to read alone? Indeed.
Parents are real important players in the reading game. A recent U.S. Education Department report showed that the students who did best academically reported that their parents read a lot, kept plenty of books at home and read aloud to their children.
Despite the benefits, "It's not always an easy thing to do to keep kids reading," concedes Ruth Graves, president of Reading Is Fundamental Inc., a national literacy organization in Washington. want them to feel at home with books."
Obviously, many children do not. In the May report titled "Reading In and Out of School," one-third of the 25,000 students interviewed in 1990 said they never read in their spare time. And one-third of the eighth- and 12th-graders surveyed said they read five or fewer pages a day in school or for homework.
"The biggest thing parents can do is let kids know reading is important," says Deborah Taylor, the head of the office of children and youth for Baltimore's Enoch Pratt Free Library.
And parents can clue their kids in to how important reading is in the same ways they communicate other values. Namely, by doing it themselves and by devoting family time, attention and money to the pursuit of it.
"The single most important factor influencing children's literacy is the amount of time they are read to. Factors such as vitamins, low-cholesterol foods or a private school education do not seem to matter," writes Steven Bialostok in his new book, "Raising Readers" (Peguis Publishers, Winnipeg).
"Quality reading time one day a week is not as useful as reading aloud regularly seven days a week -- even for only a few minutes," he continues.
Spending time is more important than spending money on reading. There are opportunities to read everywhere -- the cereal box at breakfast, the road signs on the way to the beach, the menus at the fast-food stop. And libraries, of course, let you do it for free.
During summer, libraries make an especially big pitch for young readers. Every area library system offers a summer reading program, with a variety of different incentives, for young and even teen readers. Some programs carry quotas; others encourage weekly library visits, assuming that if children are borrowing books, they are reading -- at least some of them.
Trips to the library can be family outings. It's a cool place to spend a hot day and "everybody can find something there," advises Ms. Taylor. Making time in a family's routine for regular library visits again shows children how important parents consider them, she adds.
Reading aloud is not something children outgrow when they learn to read themselves. "Upper elementary children still need to hear meanings in books, meanings that can only come from hearing books read aloud," writes Mr. Bialostok. "A sixth-grade child will want to read 'The Black Stallion' independently after hearing the book read aloud."
Being read to may also provide encouragement to a struggling reader, suggests a Reading Is Fundamental publication, "Children Who Can Read But Don't." "The pleasure of listening to you read, rather than struggling alone, may restore your child's initial enthusiasm to books and reading," it says.
Youngsters like to read aloud, too. Encourage this. It not only promotes reading, but also boosts self-esteem and can be good family entertainment -- for you as well as other youngsters.
Here are some other summer reading suggestions for parents from Ms. Graves and RIF publications:
* Set aside a reading time every day. The natural one is just before bed when everyone's settling down. You might also establish a "family reading" time -- perhaps just after dinner -- when everyone reads quietly for fun. This gives youngsters a chance to see mom and dad reading.
* Let older children "stay up" to read in bed for 15 or 30 minutes each night. It's a grown-up thing to do.
* Give books as gifts.
* Encourage your children to read everything they can -- road and street signs, cereal boxes, menus, billboards. Take advantage of little moments, such as waiting in the checkout line at the grocery store, to read.