Thursday, June 26, 2014

Get Books in Their Hands

by Nola Renz, Community Impact Manager - Early Grade Excellence

The startling reality is that children from low-income households do not read because they do not have books in their homes or easy access to books in their communities.  For many parents this is difficult to imagine, we buy books for our children, take them to the library to check out books, and read to and with our children regularly.  Yet, there are a huge number of children in our communities who don’t have books in their homes at all. 

Research has shown that “simply providing children from low-income families with self-selected books for summer reading eliminated summer reading loss and spurred reading gains comparable to those experienced by middle class children.” (Allington, McGill-Franzen Camilli, et al., 2010)

This study indicates that by distributing self-selected books to children for summer reading improved reading achievement as much as attending summer school.  By providing the children with books that they want to read every summer the odds drastically improve the likelihood that these children will end the summer reading at grade level.  The reports indicate that the younger children benefit the most from the summer book distribution programs.  The children are excited to read these books because they have selected them. 

Summer reading programs most likely to stop the summer learning loss focus on some key aspects:
  • They focus on Kindergarten and First Graders. 
  • Encourage self- selection of books. 
  • Engage the children for at least three consecutive summers. 
  • Distribute 12-15 books per summer for children in Kindergarten through fourth Grade.
Together we could make this happen. We could begin leveling the playing field with books – the building blocks of the future.

Find out more about donating books through United Way's Launch Into Literacy program at

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Let’s Make Every Word Count….

by Nola Renz, Community Impact Manager - Early Grade Excellence

Children from low-income families tend to lose more than two months of grade-level equivalency in reading during the summer, despite the fact that their peers from middle-class families make slight gains.  Yet, when the children in our community read and engage in literacy activities during the summer, they build critically important literacy skills and can avoid losing knowledge gained throughout the school year.

Summer provides an ideal time to expose children to books and other activities that interest them, help strengthen their literacy skills and avoid the risks of summer reading loss. Summer literacy activities should include even the youngest learners. Families can promote learning through fun activities, like reading books together, going to the library and local museums and cultural events, or even reading street signs and billboards. Reading at home can have a big impact on reducing summer learning loss when paired with the right supports, including access to a variety of books that match the children’s interests and reading level, and having adults ask questions about the book that was read to help the child remember different aspects. 

Have a reading picnic with your child. Take a blanket, a couple of books your child enjoys and a special treat (sliced apples for instance) out to your yard or to a local park. Spread the blanket out and sit down with your child on the blanket.  Select one of the books to read. Talk about the book, look at the picture on the cover and talk about what you think the story might be about based on the picture you see. Get comfortable and begin reading with or to your child.  Stop frequently to ask them what they think about the story so far, or what they think might happen next. When you finish the book ask some questions about the story to help the child remember what you just read together.  Then ask them if the book matched the picture on the cover or what they thought the book would be about.  Depending on the age of the child they may want to read it again. Have fun with the book, perhaps the child can act out a portion of the story.  Helping your child(ren) enjoy and have fun with reading is a gift that will support their growth and development in a lasting way. Be intentional as you integrate daily reading and talking with your child into summer experiences to create a language-rich environment for children throughout our communities.  

Thursday, June 12, 2014

What is the Summer Slide?

by Nola Renz, Community Impact Manager - Early Grade Excellence

When you hear these words what do you think of?  Your mind probably slips right over to the slide in the local swimming pool or at the local park or perhaps the slide at the playground at your child’s elementary school.  Unfortunately, that’s not what we are referring to. The “Summer Slide” we are referring to is what happens when kids stop learning over the summer, which leads to a significant loss in reading and math skills. And what we see is that while all children can be impacted, the highest impact is on the children from low-income households who have little or no access to books or summer learning programs. 

Imagine two students. Both enter the summer break with nine months of learning under their belts. While one has books at home, makes trips to the library and participates in summer programs, the other does not. There are no books at home and no resources to get them to the library or pay for summer programs. The child who reads during the summer and goes to summer programs is more likely to retain what they've learned during the school year, and even make gains over the summer months. Meanwhile, the child who doesn't have access to books or other learning opportunities can lose an average of more than two months in reading achievement in the summer.

What can we do?

The most important thing is to make sure that kids are reading. Many low-income families don’t have books at home. Through United Way of Pierce County’s Launch Into Literacy program, we are collecting books for children who don’t have any. A gift of just $3 can provide a book for a child.

For children that have access to books, start by making sure the books are at their reading level and ask them questions about what they are reading.  To make sure the book is at an appropriate level  for your child use the five finger rule. Have the child read 100 words from a book and raise one finger for each word that is too difficult to figure out. If the child has more than five fingers up, the book is probably too hard for them.  You want the reading to be challenging but not frustrating for your child.

The next thing is to talk with your child about what they are reading and ask questions about the story; this helps them develop their comprehension or understanding of what they are reading and is one of the most powerful things to help improve the child’s reading ability.

Another great tool for parents is to do a family project. This might be having a “family store” where kids buy and sell things in the family with some type of currency exchange (monopoly money can be used, or pennies, or create your own money). This creates hands-on learning opportunities at home. 

One of the most important things you can do as a parent is to learn with your child. You don’t have to be an expert at anything, simply show your child that you are interested and want to learn and then push forward to learn things with them.  Go to the library together, pick out books and let your child see you reading also. When you decide to work together to learn something be excited about both of your progress and find fun ways to celebrate and share what you have learned.