It's not too late for summer reading to begin

July 29, 1998|By Jean Brune

PARENTS frequently ask me what they can do to reinforce their children's reading skills during summer vacation. As an educator and former reading teacher, my answer is simple: "Read."

Read to your children and have them read to you. Also, incorporate reading into your fun. Read on the front stoop, at the kitchen table, in bed and on the beach.

I offer this advice from years as a student, teacher and, most of all, a mother. When I was a teacher, like many of my students, I relished the advent of summer vacation. The end of the school year meant I had the opportunity to spend more time with my daughter and to partake in some of my favorite pleasures - such as gardening, sewing and reading a good book on the back porch on a summer evening.

Each year, when school recessed for the summer, my daughter and I would go to the local public library, where we would select a huge stack of books, launching our summer reading. With no papers to grade or lessons to prepare, I had a stream of seemingly endless days stretched before me that were filled with possibilities, not appointments.

The return trip from the library always seemed a little faster than the one there because neither of us could wait to return and dive into our new books. Whether it was mystery, classic, drama or biography, reading offered us the chance to escape into new worlds in which our travels were limited only by our imaginations.

My love of reading is the result of my being read to by my parents and grandparents. Little did I know that when my grandmother and I curled up with a book, I was also gaining valuable vocabulary, writing and comprehension skills. I just knew I was having a lot of fun.

I find it alarming that as our society becomes more and more reliant on literacy skills, illiteracy rates continue to rise. It saddens me that there are people who will never have the opportunity to experience the pleasure of reading a good book.

In addition to being extremely enjoyable, reading is also the foundation from which all other learning takes place and is an area in which parental involvement is vital.

The U.S. Department of Education has recently confirmed something that I, and I am sure many parents and teachers have suspected all along: sustained individualized attention to children and parental involvement in learning both during after-school hours and over the summer can raise reading levels.

Parents and other caregivers are a child's first and most important teachers and their behavior helps mold children's attitudes toward learning and reading for life. After children reach school age, parents can continue to supplement classroom learning by providing a positive and supportive environment in which reading is regarded as a pleasurable and productive activity.

This brings me to another truth I have learned from years of teaching and parenthood: Children want to imitate the behavior of adults (although it may sometimes backfire in our faces).

If parents take time to read, establish a regular reading time and express enjoyment in the activity, their children will want to try it as well. When a child moves from recognizing letters to decoding and comprehension, a moment of epiphany takes place and children become empowered through their knowledge.

When my daughter was young, I was never very particular about what she brought home from the library as long as she was reading and enjoying it. Over time, children will become discriminating readers. They will refine their tastes in literature, will learn to appreciate the fun of a challenging book and will expand their vocabularies and intellectual curiosity accordingly.

Parents also often ask me to recommend books for their children. I truly believe there is no specific title or type of book that is better than another. It is the habit of reading that must be cultivated.

As for my now-grown daughter, who now lives abroad, and I, our shared love of reading still brings us together. Our books make trans-Atlantic journeys between Baltimore and Scotland and are discussed in E-mails and during long-distance phone calls.

At Christmastime, when she told me she was expecting my first grandchild, the first thing I did (after jumping for joy) was to rush out and buy a stack of children's books. I have already sent books to my grandchild-to-be for Valentine's Day, Easter, the first day of spring and just to say "I love you."

We look forward to passing on this legacy of reading to another generation.

Jean Waller Brune is the head of Roland Park Country School. She taught reading from 1964 to 1992. For lists of suggested childrens books for summer reading, visit Roland Park Country School's Website:

Pub Date: 7/29/98

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