Q: Our school librarian sent home a list of books to encourage summer reading. I was surprised to see picture books on the third-grade list. She also recommended "reading to and with your children, even if they can read independently." Isn't that babying them?
A: When it comes to encouraging kids to read, use every tool at hand. This is especially true during the summer months, when kids' skills hit the snooze button. According to the National Summer Learning Association, students typically score lower on standardized tests at the end of summer vacation than they do on the same tests at the beginning of the summer. (Go to summerlearning.org for more information.)
Of course you want to encourage independent reading, but there is nothing babyish about continuing to read to children once they've cracked the code. The 2015 Scholastic Kids & Family Reading Report shows that 80 percent of surveyed children ages 6 to 17 say that they still like it when parents read with them, because it means spending special time with family.
A quarter-century ago, educator Jim Trelease wrote "The Read-Aloud Handbook" to encourage parents to set aside quality time each evening to read to their children. "It became a best-seller because it promoted the pleasures of families enjoying good books together," says Carl Harvey, a school library consultant who teaches librarianship at Longwood University in Virginia.
Reading aloud with your kids offers many benefits, says Harvey. Among them:
-- It's enjoyable. When kids connect reading with pleasure, they want to read more.
-- It helps stir kids' imaginations. Unlike a movie, they have to envision the setting from the words they hear.
-- It prompts family discussions -- great for oral language development.
-- It hones their listening skills and their ability to focus, a good thing in these days of constant digital distractions.
-- It models what fluent reading sounds like.
-- It builds vocabulary not by memorization, but by using new words in context. It also naturally introduces kids to words well above their reading level. For example, reading a biography of an astronaut introduces the language and acronyms of space exploration.
-- It builds important background knowledge that boosts reading comprehension. This is especially true with nonfiction. For example, an article in Wired magazine about virtual reality that allows people to work together via 3-D avatars may be well beyond the reach of a newly independent reader, but it may be awe-inspiring to a third-grade listener.
And what about picture books recommended for third graders?
"Parents should know that picture books aren't just for pre-readers," says Harvey. "Many nonfiction picture books are appropriate for older audiences. Sure, they have great photos and illustrations, but most are also packed with valuable information in the captions and text. Some librarians buy them for high school collections because they are great ways to introduce a topic such as astronomy or ocean life."
When school's out, make family reading time a daily part of kids' summer vacation. "There's a big payoff academically, socially and emotionally for kids," says Harvey.
(Do you have a question about your child's education? Email it to Leanna@aplusadvice.com. Leanna Landsmann is an education writer who began her career as a classroom teacher. She has served on education commissions, visited classrooms in 49 states to observe best practices, and founded Principal for a Day in New York City.)