Summer vacation is meant for reading

Deccan Chronicle.  | Maya Mohan

Nation, Current Affairs

Reading, besides stimulating imagination, enhances language skills and increases comprehension levels that later gets transferred to text books.

Lack of reading during the summer months worsens the achievement gap between those who read and those who don't upto two years by grade five.

A few years ago I was passing by a classroom where the teacher was giving the students reading assignment for the vacation when I heard one of the students ask “Why should we read during the holidays? Aren’t we doing enough during school hours? We should be playing games and relaxing during the summer.”

I paused waiting to hear what the teacher had to say but she merely asked the student to sit down to write the reading list, without giving an answer. I walked down the corridor back to my room and wondered if everyone was confused as to why we should insist on children reading during the summer break because to me it was a given that summer vacations are the months given to us to immerse ourselves in the world of make-believe, when our imagination takes flight to realms of fantasy and horror and romance. There was no confusion.

This is when I began to read whether reading during the summer impacted in any way on academic achievement and I found that research abroad has proved that students who do no reading during the summer show a decline in language skills which become more pronounced the older they grow. Reading, besides stimulating imagination, enhances language skills and increases comprehension levels that later gets transferred in the case of text books. Reading during the summer therefore becomes an imperative to help the students during their entire educational career, not merely a requirement to keep them busy during the holidays.

The 'summer slide’ caused due to a disinterest in reading can, however, be halted if children are encouraged to read for at least 30minutes every day. Parents and schools both play a very vital role here.

Parents can start with reading to young children by holding them in their arms so that the child associates reading with a mother’s love and warmth.This should be done at a fixed time daily. Secondly children learn from what they see their parents doing and if the parents are seen reading, the children will automatically at least pick up a book and either begin reading or 'pretend read.' Next, youngsters can be taken to libraries or book shops and encouraged to browse and pick a book of their choice no matter what the genre. The trip could be combined with a treat  like eating out so that a positive association is made with books with fun ,which further  makes the children eager to read.Children are more likely to read books of their choice than ones foisted on them by parents or even schools. Family time could be chosen with everyone doing some reading at the same time instead of clustering around the television! Shared reading enhances the emotional and social aspects of learning and discussions post reading helps in higher order thinking and analytical skills.

Schools are pivotal in stemming the summer slide by giving a reading list and insisting on students writing a summary initially and later a book review. The number of books to be read will depend on the age group. A framework will have to be given to the students so that they will know how the book review ought to be written .Teachers can also encourage students to read aloud passages that they like from the books that made up their summer reading besides having lively discussions on character, plot and endings. Incentives in the form of prizes or certificates on their return from holidays can further expand their reading experience.Students who might not have access to books at home should be given books from the school or class library to enable them to have the same privilege as others in the class.

Lack of reading during the summer months worsens the achievement gap between those who read and those who don’t upto two years by grade five, is what researchers have found. This means that educationists besides parents have the responsibility of insisting on students reading during the summer no matter what other recreational activities they might be involved in during these months.

For those of us of the old school who have always believed that summer holidays mean sitting perched on a chair or a tree reading blissfully, with no interruptions excepting to raid the larder, the stress on vacation reading given by educationists all over the world is a vindication of the years we spent in the company of much loved writers and books. It is a world that we have to introduce our young children to and the fact that we don’t insist upon it is the reason why we today, talk incessantly about teaching skills and skills training all of which they would have acquired naturally if encouraged to read when young.

So what constitutes a reading list? Instead of suggesting a list of books and authors I would recommend genres that a specific age group would find interesting.

For very young children it should be read aloud books well illustrated and colourful with content that they can relate to including stories from Indian culture like illustrated books of Panchatantra, Indian epics , besides stories of animals. There is a wide variety to choose from today.

For middle school it should include science fiction, fantasy , school based stories as well as biographies and abridged works of classics.Enid Blyton,Ruskin Bond, G K Rowling, Indian epics  ,Greek mythology besides the many new writers both Indian and foreign, who cater to the interests of preteens, should be made available to them.

For senior students the reading list should include classics like Jane Austen ,Charles Dickens, R K Narayan, Harper Lee, William Golding,  George Orwell, history books, nonfiction that should include biographies, autobiographical books and the reading should be eclectic so that they can be exposed to different styles and different stories  from around the world. It will be this reading for young adults that will enable them to understand the world around them, feel empathy for those who are different, and help them embrace the complexity that is the world.

A few websites mentioned here will be a good guide for parents and students.
50 Indian books every parent must read to their child
Scholastic Recommen-ded book lists
List of books recomm-ended for the reason programme- CBSE Academic

These are just a few sites that I have explored and found interesting but there are many more to check out.

So wish you wonderful summer surrounded by books, read them so that they transport you to another world of fun and excitement.

(The author is director, Tattwa Centre of Learning, Kochi)