You may have heard of the ‘summer reading slide’, a phenomena where children are at standard at the end of the school year, but after six or so weeks of no practice, slide back to a lower level than where they left off before the break. This is proven for children of more disadvantaged backgrounds, and it could be argued as true for children with learning differences such as dyslexia. Children who suffer from this ‘slide’ will spend the start of the new school year getting back to their previous levels, rather than moving onto new and exciting areas of the curriculum.
Well meaning advice suggests that reading anywhere between 4-6 books over this six week period will arrest the summer slide. As a parent of a dyslexic and reluctant reader, you may as well suggest to me my child flies to the moon! An impossible task.
So what are some of the practical and achievable things you can do to avoid this slide, and even move forward with reading? How can you do it without turning a much needed break into a kind of educational bootcamp?
A blinding statement of the obvious
Summer is the time for kids to explore subjects of interest to them. Their school readers cover a broad range of subjects, but I’ve found many dyslexic children have an area of passion. Dinosaurs, Greek Mythology (because Minotaurs are cool), how mechanical stuff works, animals, art, Lego, Minecraft, and many more areas capture their imaginations. Choose a passion and find out about it together. The library is a good starting point, but not the only option. Try Google, day trips and outings, the museum - all equally useful areas for knowledge gathering.
The beauty of audio books
How do I love thee - let me count the ways….
Audio books stop fighting in the back seat, and car sickness. It’s something about the staring out the window into the distance (and lost in the fantasy of the book) that reduces nausea, but I’ll leave that to the scientists...
They increase vocabulary and comprehension, especially if you press pause to discuss what’s going on. Why did he do that? How did he feel? What will happen next? How will other characters react? What was your reaction to that character or event?
It takes 2-10 hours to finish a whole audio book, so it’s pretty easy to achieve your total of 4-6 books. And pressing play can save your voice if you have voracious listeners.
They enable your struggling reader to keep up with their peers. My son has little chance of reading Percy Jackson or Harry Potter. Even if his decoding was strong enough, his eye tracking is too weak to cope with the pages of solid text. But audio books allow him to talk about the stories with his mates.
Audio books can be sourced from either audible.com, or your local library using the Overdrive system.
Audible has a system where you pay $15 per month and for that you receive one ‘free’ book. Additional books can be purchased for $15 each - a massive saving on the casual price. The Overdrive system is free, but has less variety. I use both systems with great success. If you don’t have a device to play the audio books, you can also borrow audio books on CD from the library.
Poetry is awesome
For kids with dyslexia, poetry is an alternative to reading longer texts. The lines of text tend to be short, it improves rhyming skills, often has an interesting range of vocabulary, and discussing it afterwards does wonders for their inferencing skills. Poetry not their thing? Do the same with song lyrics. Our family is currently in love with Katy Perry’s Roar and Firework. See if your kids can relate to the lyrics.
Question of the Day
If you have kids like mine, they ask many random questions - most of which you have no answer for. We have started to write down these questions in a little notebook (or using ‘notes’ on my phone). Then we use Google to find the answers together. We discuss appropriate search terms, and read articles together.
I admit I now know more about Persephone and other minor gods than I ever wanted to know. But equally, I’ve also had awesome discussions on civil rights, the nature of equality, and the importance of standing up for those who cannot do so for themselves.
Learning (and reading), is not all about books. Field trips can be exciting and informative - go to the beach and check out the rock pools. Observe what you can and then go home and google marine eco-systems. Visit the museum and check out the size of the dinosaur skeletons. Hit MOTAT and check out how steam engines work. Compare that to modern day transport. Take a trip around Auckland’s volcanoes (I highly recommend Mangere mountain, the Meola Reef and the Orakei basin for three different types of volcanoes). Go orienteering and learn to read maps (perfect for the dyslexic child with 3D modelling skills). The possibilities are endless.
With these field trips, kids are not only becoming more knowledgeable, but they are also growing their passion for discovery, improving their vocabulary, and interacting with a wide range of people.
Cooking up a storm
Getting kids into the kitchen works on their reading and maths skills. Have them read recipes out to you. Get them to write shopping lists. Show them measurements. If they’re older, get them to work out ingredients if you double or triple a recipe. And maybe you can upskill them enough to be in charge of lunch box baking for the next year. Win. Win. Win.
Magazines and graphic novels are reading too
Make a picnic and set up a blanket in the shade together. Have some quiet time reading magazines or graphic novels - each doing your own thing, but close enough to help. It’s all about the relaxation.
If you can manage just a fraction of these ideas, you’ll avoid the slide and be ready to tackle a new school year in February.