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Michael Finlay: Reading is crucial to future academic success

As schools across our community prepare to head into what we all hope is a sunshine-filled summer, Start Making A Reader Today is celebrating the end of its 26th year fostering a love of books and reading to local kids.

In Yamhill County, 204 SMART volunteers spent time each week of the school year reading one-on-one with 559 students at levels ranging from pre-kindergarten through third grade. The volunteers not only afforded the students with a fun-filled, child-guided and culturally affirmative experience, but also with 6,800 books participating students took home to keep for good.

The logic is simple: When kids think reading is fun, they want to do it. That makes them more likely to develop and hone the skill.

Encouraging kids to have fun with reading isn’t just limited to the school year, though. While summer days are perfect for playing outside, swimming and relaxing with friends, they are also a critical time in a child’s literacy development.

Unfortunately, students can lose up to one-fourth of their reading ability over the summer. Those losses can add up over the years.

Guest Writer

Michael Finlay serves as senior Northwest program manager for Start Making a Reader Today. A graduate of Western Oregon University, he worked at the Gilbert House Children’s Museum in Salem before joining SMART in 2013. He is the founder of the This is Fatherhood LLC, facilitator of Salem Hospital’s Boot Camp for New Dads and leader of a fathers group at his church. He makes his home Salem with his wife and two young children.

This phenomenon is known as the “summer reading slide.” And it can have negative long-term impacts on student learning.

That’s especially true for the third grade reading benchmark, a critical standard for future academic success. According to state statistics, more than half of Oregon’s third graders are currently behind.

The good news for families is the summer slide can be avoided by simply building in some time to read together and enjoy books throughout the summer. Here are five tips for making reading fun and thus reversing the summer slide:

n Have books on hand during trips and errands. Keep a stash in the car or your child’s backpack to ensure some are always within reach. If you’re going on a road trip, consider bringing along an audio book or two as well.

n Establish a bedtime routine focused on allowing kids time with books they enjoy. You can even choose a book to read aloud as a family.

n Use favorite summertime activities as opportunities to read and learn about new topics. If you’re attending the coast, bring along some books about the oceans. If you’re going to a ballgame, encourage your child to read about a favorite player.

n Switch it up. Explore a range of reading materials, including kids’ magazines, comic books and maybe even some kid-friendly cookbooks.

n Let your children witness you reading. Sharing your enthusiasm for books helps get kids excited about reading, too.

The most important point is to help kids build reading motivation and enjoy books.

It’s not about setting a minute or page requirement, rather about encouraging children to read every day, so when fall rolls around, they’e ready. They’re excited for another year of reading and learning.

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