8 ways to keep your child’s reading skills sharp this summer

By:  Vale Dwight

Your child may think of summer as a time to leave the books on the shelf and take a break, especially if they are a struggling or less than enthusiastic reader.  And, after a school year full of reading drills, who can blame them? But taking a complete break from reading over the summer could cause your child to lose hard-earned ground.

Developing reading skills takes lots of repetition and “cycling back” (that is, reviewing information they’ve already been taught). Significant breaks from the learning routine erode reading skills; the long summer vacation can set kids back.

Whatever your child’s reading level, you can help combat this summer slide by engaging your child in reading activities that are both entertaining and instructive. These activities focus on language, fluency and comprehension and can be adapted for a range of ages and skill levels.

Language: word play

Building a strong vocabulary, including a wide variety of descriptive words, will help your child improve their reading skills as they encounter increasingly complex texts. You can play these simple games on your summer road trip or when you’re hanging out at home.

  • “What’s another word for….?” Your child gets points for every synonym they can come up with. Ask your child, for example, “What’s another word for couch?” They’ll likely suggest ‘sofa’ or ‘futon.’ To help them build their vocabulary, you can add ‘divan’ and ‘settee.’
  • Sentence building. Special educator Jennifer Little, PhD, recommends constructing sentences to help your child enhance and use their descriptive language. Start with a flower, for example, and ask your child the color of the flower. Then create a full sentence (“The flower is red,”) and ask them to repeat it. Ask for more information about the flower. If your child says that the flower has green leaves, help them incorporate that detail into the sentence: “The red flower has green leaves.” Keep building until your child has created a long sentence, for example, “The red flower with green leaves grows under the trees in my backyard.”
  • Board games. Boggle, Scrabble, Bananagrams, and other word games provide hours of entertaining word play. You can create a system of bonus points for longer words, or words your child has recently learned. Have a tournament and get the entire family involved! Fluency is the ability to read a text accurately and smoothly. The absolute best way to improve fluency is to read aloud with your child, says Landmark School’s Robert Kahn. “That one to one time is the key.” When your child reads aloud to you, they get reading practice, and when you read aloud to them, you’re modeling fluency. That’s not all: the shared experience helps your child create positive associations with reading.
  • Fluency: read me a story

    Fluency is the ability to read a text accurately and smoothly. The absolute best way to improve fluency is to read aloud with your child, says Landmark School’s Robert Kahn. “That one to one time is the key.” When your child reads aloud to you, they get reading practice, and when you read aloud to them, you’re modeling fluency. That’s not all: the shared experience helps your child create positive associations with reading.

  • Ham it up. Take turns reading with your child. You can alternate page by page or character by character. When it’s your turn, read with expression, and encourage your child to do the same. Let your inner ham shine!
  • Make your own audiobook. Practice reading a favorite story with your child until they feel comfortable and familiar with it. Then, fire up the audio recorder on your cell phone or computer and record the results. Play the recording back so your child can hear how they sound, and then do it again until they’re happy with the result. When you have a polished version, present it as a gift to a friend or grandparent – and be sure to save a copy for yourself! Some children have little trouble with the mechanics of reading but struggle to identify key points in a story and understand its themes. Posing questions and helping your child engage more deeply with what they’re reading will help sharpen their comprehension skills.
  • Comprehension: build a better reader

    Some children have little trouble with the mechanics of reading but struggle to identify key points in a story and understand its themes. Posing questions and helping your child engage more deeply with what they’re reading will help sharpen their comprehension skills.

  • Mental movies. Ask your child to visualize the scene in the story you’re reading to help them link words with imagery, suggests educational psychologist Melanie West. Read a few paragraphs to your child, then ask how they picture the scene. If they have trouble visualizing it, look back at the text and help them find descriptive words and phrases. Ask them to imagine and describe how the scene might appear in a movie. Have paper and markers on hand in case they want to sketch her mental image.
  • What happens next? After reading a few paragraphs of a story, ask your child if they can predict what is going to happen next. What will happen if the rabbit steals the carrots? Will the farmer catch the rabbit? How will the story end? If the book has pictures, encourage your child to look at them carefully for clues.
  • Reading with purpose. Help your child practice reading with a particular goal in mind. For example, before your child begins reading a chapter of a book, pose a question or two, so they can look for answers as they read. For example, “When you’re finished with this chapter, tell me two things the main character says to his dog.” Or ask what time of year a particular story takes place. Does your child think it’s summer or winter? How can they tell?

Suburban Life Article: Starting Strong

Starting Strong
For nearly a century, the Meadowbrook School has been helping students, from preschool to sixth grade, gain the confidence, curiosity and leadership needed to excel for the rest of their lives

By Theodora Malison

Since its founding in 1919, the Meadowbrook School has been helping students master empathy, leadership and problem solving—in other words, essential life skills that will serve them well in college and beyond—all by the time they have finished the sixth grade.

The Meadowbrook School, which is tucked away on 16 acres of quiet campus in the Montgomery County community of Meadowbrook, focuses solely on teaching students from preschool through the sixth grade. The independent, nonsectarian school maintains an “unwavering commitment to academic excellence,” all while enabling students to experience childhood unabridged, according to Head of School Michael Reardon.

“Larger schools, K through 12, tend to spotlight high school student successes,” Reardon says. “Instead, we’re focusing the spotlight on celebrating the achievements of children in a young community up to sixth grade.

Meadowbrook ensures preparedness for the future through a curriculum students find challenging, exploratory and enjoyable.

“We are a school that enrolls children as young as the age of 3, and we offer a rich and vibrant learning environment,” says Reardon. “Our children learn to transition to numerous classes. They’ll attend a science class in the lab, an art class in the studio, and French and Spanish in the language room. In some sense, we go beyond what a self-contained classroom looks like, each day being different from the previous day.”

Janice Mockaitis, a Meadowbrook science teacher, says her students experience a hands-on curriculum that includes reading, writing and developing self-made science experiments for observation over an extended period of time.

“The children in my class build content, and more so, they have a desire to see what is happening with their experiments,” Mockaitis notes. “During our lesson on solvents and gases, each child made their own solution, which we sat out on the counter and observed during each class. The students get to visualize their experiments, not just read about them out of a textbook with questions to answer at the end of a chapter. They also develop their own conclusions based on their own experiments, which is very important for them to learn. There’s problem solving involved, which is something I believe truly prepares our students for what’s to come.”

Fellow Meadowbrook teacher Joe Gaines believes the school’s unique vision allows for students to grasp the meaning of both responsibility and organization. The lessons begin at the start of each day.

“The kids arrive in the morning and right away they are responsible for getting ready for the day,” Gaines adds. “Because each day is a different day, they have to be organized and make sure they have whatever they need for that specific day. I tell parents during Back to School Night that we place an emphasis on preparing students for now and for the next phase of their lives, especially the sixth-grade students. From having sharpened pencils to having the proper books packed, they need to have great organizational skills to prepare them for what’s down the road.”

In addition to a learning environment that fosters critical thinking, all Meadowbrook students, regardless of age or grade, benefit from a strong sense of community. Here, students are immersed in a culture that underscores the importance of diversity and the value of collaboration.

“The mission is simply to educate students on the value of hard work and humanity to make a positive difference in the community, we do that by ensuring that our students are exposed to academic and social challenges among many others,” Reardon says. “Our students go through the D.A.R.E. program in addition to doing several community service projects. When we have a dress-down day, we’ll do things like raise money for an SPCA or take a trip to the Abington Hospital and visit senior citizens.

“What I appreciate the most is that our students are empathetic and they become proud when they have the opportunity to help others around them,” he continues. “At a young age, they become appreciative of everything they have.”

Cultivating leadership is an essential part of the Meadowbrook experience, particularly for sixth-grade students.

“Since our sixth-grade students are the oldest, this puts them at a chance to be a leader and teach the younger students,” Gaines says. “All students, however, get to present themselves to an audience of 40 or 50 people at some point, and we stress the idea of presenting confidently and well. One of the things I notice is that our students will make mistakes, but they don’t break character or lose control; rather, they recompose themselves and move on.”

Also, in Meadowbrook’s family-style dining hall, fifth- and sixth-grade students display leadership and service by doling out meals to the younger students during lunchtime. It’s a small but powerful example of the unique leadership opportunities provided by the school, according to Reardon.

“The students are assigned to different tables each month, so everyone in the school community is getting to know one another,” he says. “There’s also the buddy program, which pairs a fourth-, fifth- or sixth-grade student with younger children to be a buddy and a mentor throughout the year. They do regular activities such as arts and crafts with these younger students, or even greet them in the morning at the front door.”

Throughout the school, Meadowbrook emphasizes mentorship and “role-model time.” This could be something as simple as an older student helping a younger student find his or her voice.

“The older students, in a sense, help encourage the younger students to speak up, which is typically difficult for students at a young age to do,” Gaines says. “These opportunities allow the oldest and the youngest kids to not only work together but see the older students as role models. The parents of these students get to see that there’s a connection among the student body and no one is isolated. It’s an incredible experience.”

Meadowbrook also values play, which can be beneficial for establishing interpersonal skills, fostering collaboration and honing creativity. Reardon believes play also enables children to “be children.”

“Our society has become so hyper-competitive that it has created undue pressure on children and families,” he says. “Parents often feel that their child has to be the first to read or participate in every extracurricular activity possible. Fortunately, we have a balance, and families appreciate it. We want our students exposed to multiple opportunities without forcing them to do everything. A child at a young age needs to learn the importance of balance.

“Our students are participating in drama, sports and other activities, and still finding time to make a positive impact on society,” Reardon continues. “When you say ‘being a person for others,’ that is truly done through Meadowbrook.”

This balance is just one of the reasons why, after nearly 100 years of existence, Meadowbrook has consistently produced smart, confident and well-rounded students—students who tend to thrive at top-tier high schools and, ultimately, institutions of higher learning.

“By the time a student is finished at Meadowbrook, they understand what it takes to be confident in and well prepared their work,” Gaines says. “Our students have more opportunities to be front and center, which is something, I believe, that really differentiates us from other schools. People tell me they know a Meadowbrook student by the confident way they carry themselves.”

The Meadowbrook School
1641 Hampton Road
Meadowbrook, PA 19046
215-884-3238
www.themeadowbrookschool.org