Summer - for adults at least - is the perfect time to catch up on reading, and the idea of kicking back with a good novel is sheer bliss for many. But school children do not usually have books on top of their fun list, and reading levels can deteriorate over the six-week break as a result.
In a bid to counter this phenomenon known as the "summer slide", Massey University literacy specialist Professor Tom Nicholson has devised a programme that will see 11,000 free books delivered to 600 year-three children in Auckland so they have a new book to read every two days.
The programme is an extension of a research project Professor Nicholson trialled with a south Auckland school last summer to find out if giving children books during the holidays reduced the summer slide. It did, and now he wants to test the impact on a larger, more varied group.
With the help of a private donor, the $300,000 scheme is being rolled out to seven-year-olds at 10 schools from deciles one to 10, with pupils in each decile divided into four groups for a comparative study. One group will receive books, a second will receive books and a quiz, while two control groups will either do a maths workbook, or will receive books at the end of the holidays. The aim is to see whether those who received the extra reading material maintain or improve reading ability, and to assess rates of improvement between high and low decile schools. All participants are being tested at the beginning and end of the programme.
Professor Nicholson, who has devoted his career to teaching, researching and writing on literacy education, says the summer slide occurs because of a problem known as "use it or lose it". Previous studies show children from economically disadvantaged homes lose more ground, because of lack literacy resources such as books and possibly lack reading opportunities, such as trips to the library, he says.
Returning to school with reduced reading skills compounds problems in other learning areas as well and over time the problem can lead to a portion of school children persistently failing and ultimately leaving school with inadequate reading and writing ability - factors that contribute to a higher risk of unemployment, crime and poor social skills.
Last week participants selected 25 illustrated fiction and non-fiction books each, including titles by favourite authors such as Margaret Mahy and Joy Cowley, to be delivered every two weeks to their homes by a team of helpers. Some of the children taking part, such as those at decile one Flat Bush School in Otara, who also took part in last summer's project, will be encouraged to read aloud to parents or caregivers, and to do quizzes to enhance vocabulary and comprehension.
Professor Nicholson, based at the School of Education at Albany, says all parents should encourage their children to read at least some literature every day during the holidays, whether a paper book, a computer or electronic device. And getting them to read aloud is a great way to be involved as well as helping the child with fluency and vocabulary.
"Being a good reader comes through habit, routine and discipline," he says. "Kids do need to be encouraged and coached, but the only person who is going to a make difference is the child."
"Reading can easily become a treasured part of the holidays. You can read at the beach, in a tent, a hammock, the sofa - just about anywhere."
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