Summer scholar

Keep your kids' reading strong until September.

By Carolyn James, Ph.D.

LeapFrog Literacy Expert

As the literacy development expert on LeapFrog’s Learning Team, Carolyn ensures that the curricular design in LeapFrog products is grounded in the latest educational research. Before joining LeapFrog, Carolyn was a reading professor at Sacramento State University, a curriculum developer for the Lawrence Hall of Science in Berkeley, and a teacher in the San Francisco bay area. She earned her doctorate in educational psychology at Michigan State University.

Research shows that children who take to reading early on are more likely to make it a pleasurable habit throughout their lives and experience later success in reading and writing, with a broader vocabulary and deeper knowledge about people and the world. Studies have shown that, on average, children who read more than twenty minutes per day scored above the 90th percentile on standardized reading tests, while children who read fewer than ten minutes per day scored below the 75th percentile. Further research suggests that simply adding an extra ten minutes of reading per day dramatically increases a child’s exposure to words which can boost overall reading achievement. That is, if your child goes from five minutes per day to fifteen minutes, she boosts her exposure to words by over 200% and joins children who, on average, scored above the 75th percentile (whereas kids who read fewer five minutes scored below the 50th percentile).

Getting kids hooked into reading now can prevent the drop-off that can occur over the summer months away from school. And the “getting hooked” part is key. While we know that incentive plans that reward kids with pizzas or certificates for reading a certain number of pages or books have value, and can certainly motivate reluctant readers, it’s important to note that personal motivations to read are the most lasting. And studies show that engaged readers regularly outperformed older, disengaged readers, regardless of age or socioeconomic factors. With this in mind, the following tips are designed to help you spark your child’s love of reading:

  1. Build on your child’s passions, questions, and preferences. Studies show that when children are excited about a topic, they will keep reading. Even the most active children can get lost in a book—or a website, or an adventure-packed comic book that matches their passions and preferences. Children’s librarians and bookstore owners are precious allies, but there are online resources as well, including the Children’s Choice Booklists published each year by the International Reading Association.  
  2. Make reading a social experience. Research suggests that children who choose to read for fun see themselves as part of a community with other readers—discussing what they’re reading, making recommendations, even debating the value of an author’s intended message. This can start with a chat over something you’ve read aloud with your child (older children benefit from read aloud experiences just as much as the younger ones). And if other readers are not at home, you can seek out book clubs in local libraries or book stores, or encourage your child to connect less formally with friends or cousins after school or via email.
  3. Teach your child the “Five-Finger Test” to find books at the right level. Studies show that children are more motivated to read when they feel successful and can approach books with confidence. If your child is choosing books that are too difficult, encourage them to read one page of the book. If there are more than five unknown words, choose a different book.