Gannett article extols the benefits of summer reading for youth
featuring OSUM's Dr. Mary Jo Fresch
Professor of Education, The Ohio State University
Written by Linda Martz
Mansfield News Journal
MANSFIELD — Pick up a book? Once school is out for the summer?
Children benefit from summer reading, an activity that can help them score high grades, forge bonds with friends and family, and allow them to follow their passions and dreams.
That’s what education experts, school principals and librarians say.
“When I taught third grade, I had a student who really struggled in reading,” said Mary Jo Fresch, a professor and faculty coordinator for the Ohio State University-Marion’s college of education.
“The summer before he became my student, his dad started having him help fix their car. They got out manuals, schematics ... all the important reading his dad needed to do make the repairs,” she said. The third-grader “loved anything to do with cars.”
Once Fresch learned of the child’s interest, “I started handing him nonfiction about engines, cars, whatever I could find.”
“Here was this challenged reader who could read ‘carburetor,’ ‘manifold,’ ‘transmission’ and lots of difficult vocabulary. Unbeknownst to his dad, he had incidentally learned these words,” she said.
Summer reading can forge bonds around common interests within a family, she said. “When parents convey that reading is fun, the student will adopt that same attitude.”
People who work closely with children point to studies showing reading can help kids keep their grades high.
In 1996, Kelly Charlton, James Lindsay and Scott Greathouse conducted a meta-analysis, in which they reviewed studies on summer reading. They found students who did no summer reading lost as much as three months of learning. “That means, when school starts back in the fall, they are not where they left off at the end of the previous school year. They actually slid back in skills,” Fresch said.
Misti Tidman, a children’s librarian for the Licking County Library System in Newark, was aware of that research. “Reading during the summer helps combat that. It keeps their skills sharp.”
A 1998 study by Anne Cunningham and Keith Stanovich outlined what they called “the Matthew effect,” where the rich (good readers) get richer and the poor (struggling readers) get poorer, Fresch said.
Research released in 2010 by Richard Allington, Anne McGill-Frazen, Gregory Camilli, Jennifer Graff, Jacqueline Zeig, Courtney Zmach and Rhonda Nowak “attribute some of the achievement gap we see between socio-economic groups as the lack of continuous summer reading,” she said.
“I think reading is the basis of a lifelong learning process,” said Renee Bessick, principal of Woodland Elementary School in Mansfield.
Programs for after-school or summer reading are available at several youth-oriented local initiatives in Mansfield that work closely with schools — including Culliver Reading Center, the DeWald Center, Ocie Hill and Friendly House, she said.
“I think it’s very important to read over the summer about stuff you like. A whole new world of adventures is open that’s not necessarily teacher-driven. They might find out some things about themselves,” Bessick said.
Outside of school, “they have a lot more freedom.” Tidman agreed, adding children can explore topics that excite their interest, such as dinosaurs or cars, to their heart’s content. “They can really pursue that during the summer.”
Just as adults love to choose “beach reads” during the summer, kids can do the equivalent, Tidman said.
Reading doesn’t have to be solitary. Books might spark bonds of shared interest, said Joe Ream, teen services assistant for the Licking County Library System.
The Newark-based library facility is blessed with more than the typical amount of space to house its juvenile and teen sections — enough to offer kids enticing perks such as Nintendo Wii video game consoles, an Xbox with a projector and nearly 40 different summer programs for teens in June and July.
“We have a lot of teens who meet here specifically to hang out,” Ream said.
The theme for the summer reading program at the Licking County Library System this year has a “you be the scientist theme,” with special programs like a visit by Mr. Molecule and plans for hands-on activities for younger children, such as letting them build bridges, using toothpicks and gumdrops, Tidman said.
People who work with children say a wide range of summer reading material can contribute to building school skills and success skills far outside of the classroom.
Many older children develop avid interests in particular series or genres, Ream said.
“They devour stacks of manga (Japanese comic books),” he said. “They will check out an entire series of 30 or 40 of them at one time.”
Fiction has the power to provide kids with a way to understand what it means to be human, through the lens of a different historical era or geographic location. “You’re sharing these experiences that the author has had that they put into that book. You’ve expanding horizons,” he said.
But Fresch said she’s got a soft spot for the many benefits of nonfiction. “There are so many good ones these days,” she said.
“Not only are we reading, we are learning,” she said. “We are learning new concepts, new vocabulary and new ways to see the world. These are important school skills but more importantly, reading non-fiction is a life skill.”
Research released 14 years ago estimated 85 percent to 95 percent of daily reading done by adults involves nonfiction, she said. “Just reflect on your day … how much of it was factual text where you drew information?”
“Besides, it’s exciting to find out dogs can understand up to 250 words and hand gestures; that just like our fingerprints, everyone has a unique tongue print; camels have three eyelids; otters hold hands when they sleep; the word awful used to mean “inspiring wonder;” and in your life you will walk the equivalent of five times around the equator. Nonfiction can be lots of fun,” she said.
Renee Bessick, Woodland Elementary School principal, said even kids who insist they never picked up a book during the summer probably spent more time reading than they thought — whether that involved plaques at the zoo or the displays at a science museum.