Study: Letting Children Choose Books Boosts Summer Reading


New research suggests that children who are allowed to choose the books they would like to read over the summer break not only improve their reading skills, but also prevent “summer slide” – the loss of a few months of learning over the summer break.

Reuters’ Andrew M. Seaman writes that children who selected their own books at the end of the spring semester scored better on reading evaluations when they returned in the fall compared to the students who were given the books they were to read over the summer.

“We’re starting to get the message out there that reading is a key determinant of health,” said Dr. Erin Kelly, the study’s lead author from the University of Rochester in New York.

Research shows that a child’s long term health is better if they can read, suggesting that poor reading skills are a problem for not only schools but also for the children and families. Kelly and his colleague Dr. C. Andrew Aligne proposed to reproduce an experiment conducted in impoverished schools. The two doctors held a book fair in 2013 for 18 second-grade children in Rochester City Schools where students chose 13 free books. Another class with 20 students, the comparison group, received books they had not chosen.

Students were assessed before and after summer break and the result showed reading scores were significantly improved for children who selected their own summer reading. The children who were given books not of their own choosing showed no change in their reading abilities.

The next year, four classes of students, kindergarten through second grade, participated in the research. Students were allowed to choose 15 books before summer break. Two other classes, which were used for comparison, were allowed to select a few books. Reading scores in both groups improved, according to a report presented last week at the Pediatric Academic Societies meeting in San Diego, California.

Districts often send books home with students in hopes of preventing “literacy loss” which can occur during a long break from school and is experienced by many low-income students, reports ScienceBlog. In the study, children’s choice often trumped the actual literary quality of the summer reading book.

“The most popular book was an adaptation of Disney’s Frozen,” said Kelly, a fourth-year resident in the medicine-pediatrics program at the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry. “Is that going to be the best literature in the world? No. But if it’s something that the children will actually read, then it’s going to lead to positive outcomes.”

Kelly explained that the study’s findings could be particularly valuable for districts with a preponderance of low-income families. The Rochester City School District has only 21% of students who are proficient on New York State’s English/language arts exam. Also, the graduation rate is 43%, reports Science 2.0.

The Reading is Fundamental organization has also published tips for parents on its website. Some of its suggestions to help children keep reading during the summer include combining an activity with a book about the activity; going to the public library; leading by example by letting your kids see you reading; talking about what you read and asking questions about what your child is reading; creating times in the summer schedule just for reading; having plenty of reading material available; and reading aloud to children.