May 31, 2016

Professor: Fight children's summer slump with fun reading

Melanie Kuhn Melanie Kuhn
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WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — With the start of summer break underway, parents worry about the potential of children losing some of the gains made during the school year.

But a Purdue University professor in the College of Education said battling the summer slump for children is less about stressing the education aspects and more about making it enjoyable.

Melanie Kuhn, the Jean Adamson Stanley professor in literacy, said reading can be a crucial tool in maintaining a child's education interest. The key is making the reading as interesting as the child's many other summer activities.

"When children read a lot, they are more likely to be successful at it, and since people like to do things we are successful at, they are more likely to continue reading," she said. "This improvement occurs no matter what type of reading material you choose."

Unless parents want a child to learn about a specific area of study, the material that children read is not as important as the process of reading itself and making sure they are truly engaged, Kuhn said.

"Reading for pleasure helps them maintain or improve their reading skills, and if they are reading about something they didn't know about previously, they will be expanding their knowledge as well," she said. "Both of these are likely to have a positive effect on their learning over the course of their future school career."

The strategy to keep children reading throughout the summer evolves as they become older. Between kindergarten and second grade, children go from learning the basics to becoming fairly independent readers. This process of developing as skilled readers continues throughout their school years. For example, middle schoolers can improve proficiency by picking up a variety of materials, including different magazines and newspaper items that interest them.

Kuhn noted series books and other popular selections create what the publishing industry calls "playground buzz" in which one child reads a book and recommends it to peers. These books offer children a wider range of texts to choose from for children.

"Motivation should never be underestimated in reading development," Kuhn said. "It seems an entire generation of students became readers because they wanted to read Harry Potter along with their friends, even if the books were considered to be quite difficult for some of the kids who chose to read them."

And while children can and should read some stories straight through, it is good for parents to get involved along the way. Children should be asked questions about the story or details presented in the book, make predictions about what might happen and discuss what they have read.

"All of these strategies will serve them well over their school years," Kuhn said. "One caution, however, is this is not homework - make sure you think about this as a time you can simply enjoy with your child."

A large variety of books and magazines for children of any age can be found online, turning tablets into the younger generation's version of a library. But a lot of screen time isn't always a benefit; Kuhn said recent research indicates comprehension is generally better when reading from printed text compared to electronic text.

"Interestingly, many of my undergraduates prefer books over electronic texts even though they've grown up with a range of technology at their disposal, so I don't think traditional reading sources are going to be replaced any time in the near future," she said.

Writer: Brian L. Huchel, 765-494-2084, bhuchel@purdue.edu

Source: Melanie Kuhn, melaniek@purdue.edu

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