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Design a Summer Reading Program for Early Literacy

Anytime early learners are away from school for an extended period of time, there is a risk of their literacy skills deteriorating. It’s easy to see why.

  • A school provides young students with regular, structured lessons. 
  • Students have access to experienced teachers who know how to support early learners.
  • Students also have a consistent learning environment to practice reading, with access to numerous books and other educational materials.

The concept of the summer slide or summer learning loss is very real.  This is where there is a loss of knowledge that students gained from the previous school year following  the summer break.  

Sprig highlighted the summer slide phenomenon in a previous blog, where it was mentioned what learning recovery looks like for school children.

Indeed, schools should be well equipped to manage returning students that had varied summer experiences and were exposed to diverse learning opportunities.  Some students may require more help than others in the form of one-on-one or group support. 

But how can we mitigate the summer slide? 

Or looking at it from a more positive angle, what if more learning opportunities were available during the summer so all students could continue to maintain and build their early literacy skills?

Summer reading programs provide opportunities to both retain and grow literacy skills. Not all summer reading programs are the same in how they go about doing this. 

This article focuses on designing a summer reading program for early literacy. 

Some very important questions are first answered to understand the heart of summer reading programs, followed by some thoughtful considerations on the best way forward for early literacy.

 

What is a Summer Literacy Program?

Summer Literacy Program

​​A summer learning program centered around language or reading is called a Summer Literacy Program. 

 

It is intended for students who: 

  • are struggling to read at grade level. 
  • have socioeconomic or other identified challenges to literacy achievement. 

 

There is often no fixed age range for students who are selected for the program. 

They can be early learners in kindergarten, elementary and middle schools, depending on the local education board. The 3 to 12 age group is a common participation criteria for a lot of these summer programs. 

The summer literacy program encourages students to read during their summer break so they retain the literacy skills they have gained throughout the school year. 

Many literacy activities are offered according to the age group and reading level of the student. The duration of the program is often flexible. It can range from three weeks to the whole summer.

Reading knowledge and skills are not only retained in Summer Literacy Programs, but are often added as well. Students can make literacy gains during the summer break, which they can carry back to school in the fall. 

Summer Literacy Programs are especially pertinent for young learners as there is a short window of opportunity to maximize learning at this formative stage of learning. This includes:

  • Correcting wrong learnings
  • Recovering lost learnings
  • Adding new learnings

 

Every single day in the early childhood stage of learning is important. 

The learning students acquire at this crucial juncture of their lives helps develop and establish the necessary and foundational skills. These skills, when learned properly, serve students well in their learning journey for the rest of their lives.

Summer is one quarter of the year and provides a helpful boost to early learning when this time is well used.

 

What is a Summer Literacy Camp?

A Summer Literacy Camp is very similar to the Summer Literacy Program, if not identical.  

Some school districts call it a Summer Literacy Camp and make it available to their students who are struggling. 

The students enrolled in the program are recommended by the teacher and/or principal.

 

Is There One Model of Summer Literacy Program?

There are in fact many examples of what a Summer Literacy Program can look like. 

 

Some programs are directed at groups of students from multiple school districts. They are part of a study. 

Harvard funded the Reading Enhances Achievement During Summer program where children from low-income families were mailed books to read that matched their interests and abilities. 

The findings from this study showed that the children who received these books did better than their peers who did not receive them.

 

Some programs are multimodal. They have in-person, virtual and hybrid options. 

The Scholastic Summer Reading Challenge allows kids to log their reading milestones and unlock weekly milestones, thus creating an incentive to continue reading. 

It definitely helps to have such an interactive learning program which motivates children to pursue reading.

 

Some programs are completely resource based. 

Any principal, teacher or parent can benefit from a resource package that is designed specifically for early literacy. By using videos, books and other resources, they are able to create their own summer literacy programs, even if the official infrastructure for it does not exist. 

 

Is It An Early Literacy Intervention?

In some summer literacy programs, kids receive individual and small group literacy instruction. So the students who are already struggling are further differentiated to understand what would help them become better readers.

So yes, it can be thought of as an early literacy intervention during the summer break. But as discussed before, some summer literacy camps also see it as an opportunity to enrich learning. 

Usually, when schools have intervention in mind, they will explicitly create intensive summer intervention programs for a particular group of struggling students. Most reading research points to the success of such programs, showing a significant relationship between the hours of intervention and improvement of reading ability. 

 

The One Common Theme: Books

Sprig Storybooks

                                                                                                Sprig’s Storybooks

Whether it’s taking part in a reading challenge, doing a book review, participating in book giveaways, or maintaining reading logs, the one common theme in all Summer Literacy Programs is books. 

As such, it’s important to involve people who are knowledgeable about and have access to books.

Some school libraries stay open for the summer for this very reason, and the school librarian plays a key role in summer reading programs.

Even without a librarian, at the very least, kids should have access to fun books which appeal to them. These books can be accompanied by animations or other effects like augmented reality. 

Anything that encourages early learners to read should be favoured.

 

The Involvement of Parents

Involvement of Parents

The involvement of parents in summer literacy programs is not only recommended, it is actually imperative to student success! 

Yes, the literacy programs and camps are a way to keep kids engaged in a productive way during the summer. But just as it is during the school year, it’s important for parents to actively participate in their child’s learning. 

Active parental involvement makes a big difference when it comes to making literacy gains.

Nearly half of parents are not even aware of the summer slide. So summer literacy programs have the responsibility to make families aware of the opportunity that exists to make use of the programs, and also support families in their own efforts to work on literacy. 

The Sprig Home app has supported parents both during and post-pandemic to provide easy, accessible learning activities that turn those everyday moments into learning opportunities. 

 

Summer Literacy Is Both Fun and Serious

Summer Literacy is Both Fun and Serious

​​While summer literacy programs are meant to be fun, it’s also serious enough that many different types of organizations (school districts, colleges, societies, and educational organizations) are now offering some version of summer literacy instruction.

In a recent study of 580 public and private elementary schools in the US, 65% of them held summer literacy programs, despite not being required or funded to do so. 

Regardless of the type of organization, it’s clear that to provide an enriching learning experience to kids that truly excites them to pursue reading, educational resources are required that are specifically created for summer literacy. 

The Family Summer Literacy Boost bundle from Joyful Literacy helps parents and summer schools teach students who are in kindergarten to Grade 2.

This fully digital video series contains downloadable books, videos from topmost experts in the field of literacy, and instructional materials geared towards reading mastery.

Sprig fully endorses the video bundle, given its equal emphasis on both teachers and parents, the collaboration of whom is absolutely essential for a successful summer literacy program. 

 

Using What Works in Summer Literacy

The group of students you select for a summer literacy program, the modes you use to teach them, and the roles you involve to coordinate the program are all important decisions. 

But it’s most important is to use an evidence-based literacy strategy that works. 

The number of literacy activities one can do are endless.

Stories

Crafts

Explorations

Worksheets

Experiments

Etc.

But to do it all in a structured setting, supervised by literacy specialists and parents, is the real difference maker. 

Teachers know their students. When teachers are given the opportunity to modify program components for their students, the effectiveness of summer literacy programs is further enhanced.

When prior assessments are conducted to understand the student’s areas of strength and growth, reading instruction is adjusted accordingly for the student. 

From that point onwards, teachers can follow an evidence-based framework to monitor student progress until full literacy has been achieved. 

Achieving early literacy for all is Sprig’s passion! If you can’t get enough of early literacy improvement articles, please also be sure to check out:

The 4 Golden Rules of Early Literacy Development

Building Early Literacy Skills in Schools. Thoughtful Considerations

Have any questions about summer reading or summer literacy programs? Contact us.

When Parents Get Involved, Early Literacy Grows

Maureen Taylor is Sprig’s Strategic Advisor of Learning and Governance. After earning a B.Ed and M.Ed from the University of Saskatchewan, Maureen has spent 30 years in early years education working as an educator, administrator, superintendent, and consultant.

 

How many new parents have been told, by well-intentioned family or friends, that they need to do activities with their young children that promote learning? After all, we’ve all heard that a child’s education begins at birth and ultimately goes on forever.  

I know it is not always easy to see the impact of our everyday interactions with our children. As a parent and grandparent, I can attest to that. However, as an educator who has read the research and has years of practical experience, I can confidently say that the early years really are pivotal in a child’s educational development. It is my belief that parental involvement is a cornerstone to a child’s education.

 

Learning at Home is Important

Over five decades of research, and time invested from many institutions across the globe, suggests that students perform better in all aspects of life when their parents are involved in their learning path from an early age. Parents are a child’s first teachers and are by far the most influential people in their life.

“Children spend only 17 percent of their time in school and 83 percent of their time with parents. This out-of-school time is a huge opportunity to have parents collaborate to enhance the educational outcomes for their children.”

 

Debbie Pushor, University of Saskatchewan Curriculum Studies Professor

Talking to your children and reading to them before bed may sound like little things, but as it turns out, these little things aren’t so little after all. Everyday activities like questioning, playing, singing and rhyming have an incredible impact on your child’s learning. And, there is sound pedagogical research to back that up. In fact, Snow, Burns & Griffin (1998) suggest that while letter-sound correspondence learned at school is important, the motivation, comprehension, and strong oral language skills children develop through conversation and reading with their parents is even more consequential for strong literacy in the primary years and beyond.

“Research has proven that, early in life, reading to your child every day has a direct positive causal impact on their reading and cognitive skills later in life.”

 

Department of Education and Early Childhood Development, Victoria, Australia

Having these positive literacy experiences, especially at home, encourages early learners to become strong and confident readers by the time they hit third grade, which is a key indicator for the prediction of high school graduation.

 

What Parents Can Do to Support Learning at Home

How parents are involved in developing their children’s oral language and reading skills matters. Research indicates that it is home-based activities that are most closely linked to students’ academic success in school. In Caspe and Lopez’s Seven Research-Based Ways That Families Promote Early Literacy (2017), they suggest the following activities as particularly effective in helping early learners develop literacy skills:

  • Read with your child and talk about stories. This supports vocabulary, knowledge, oral language, print awareness, and reading comprehension.
  • Share a book enthusiastically and with engagement. This fosters a love of reading and develops a child’s motivation and passion for reading.
  • Use rich vocabulary to converse with your child. This increases vocabulary and understanding of language.
  • Use your home language. Whether you speak French, Spanish, or Arabic, this encourages the development of language and literacy and promotes a healthier cultural identity.
  • Ask open ended ‘why’ questions. This develops knowledge of the meaning of words and their relationships.  
  • Visit a library. This not only promotes language and literacy development, but it also may provide new learning opportunities.  
  • Set high expectations for your child’s potential. This encourages curiosity to try new activities and builds resilience in persisting at tasks.

While these are all intentional activities, it is good to be reminded that learning is all around us.  By conversing with your child as you bake, count money, and set the table, you are developing math skills. By pointing out familiar signs in your surroundings, you are developing print awareness. By playing ‘I Spy’ and ‘Simon Says’, you are developing memory and attention. And lastly, by reflecting on your day, you are developing vocabulary and language.

Parent engagement encourages meaningful learning in a joyful way. By sharing and talking about different experiences in different environments, we are modeling and partnering in our children’s learning, and exchanging boring experiences for bonding experiences. Parent engagement with their children’s learning matters!

 


 

Sprig Home is a curriculum-aligned, at-home version of Sprig’s classroom-based oral language learning program for early learners that shows parents how to enrich the simple things they do, each and every day, to help foster their child’s learning. It is available at no cost for the duration of school closures.

With the launch of Sprig Home, parents have free access to high-quality learning resources for children aged three to six. Since Sprig Home is a derivative of Sprig Language, Sprig’s oral language learning program, parents can ensure that the activities they do at home with their kids not only support learning, but meet school curricular outcomes as well.

 

Start learning at home today! Sprig Home is free for parents during school closures.

Defining Parent Engagement in 2019

Elise Twyford

Elise Twyford

Teacher

Elise Twyford is an early-years educator and lifelong learner. She is currently running the Sprig Learning Oral Language Learning Program in her classroom in Toronto, Ontario.

What does parent engagement look like in 2019?

Parents spend countless hours caring for their child — they are the experts on the little person that you meet in your classroom. They send their hopes and dreams into school with their child, and every parent wants to see their child succeed. As educators, we get the privilege to spend a few hours a day helping their little learners build the skills they need along their path toward academic success.

But while we know that relational trust between schools and parents is linked to higher levels of student achievement, how much time are we as educators dedicating to actively nurturing our relationships with parents and caregivers? How can we create a welcoming and responsive classroom culture, one where engagement is initiated and led by parents, caregivers and community members? And what does parent engagement look like in the culturally responsive classroom, particularly in communities where trust in the education system is lacking, oftentimes because of historical trauma?

What does it even mean to engage parents in early learning?

We tend to evaluate parent engagement by the number of parents who attend parent-teacher interviews, or how regularly we communicate directly with the home. These numbers, although important, are often more representative of a parents’ busy schedule than their meaningful engagement with their child’s education.

Because we lack the framework and tools we need to discuss and describe parental engagement, we as teachers often find ourselves unable to analyze and assess the true fruits of our efforts. We know that we are doing “something” to get parents engaged in our classrooms—but is it enough?

Ken Leithwood argues that we need to shift away from the current model of trying to get parents into the school, and towards a model where parents and caregivers can support learning in the home. After all, this is where half of the learning that we are responsible for as educators happens.

The Ladder of Participation

Roger Hart (1992) developed the Ladder of Youth Participation to describe levels of youth engagement. At the bottom of the ladder, you can see an engagement model that is providing information. At the top of the ladder, you see a model that has ideas initiated by youth and both adults and youth sharing in the decision making.

Could this same framework be used to think about how teachers engage parents in classrooms?

https://healthyschoolsbc.ca/healthy-schools-bc-resources/healthy-schools-network/

Typically, when we think of parent engagement, we think of the communication that happens through emails and calls to the home. We think of parent representatives on school committees, parent volunteers in school-wide activities, and parent-teacher night. The common thread here is that engagement happens on the school’s terms rather than the parent’s. From Hart’s ladder, this would look like the bottom 1-5 rungs (if we were being generous).

But what if we imagined a more engaging approach, one that supports parents to direct, define and lead the engagement?

This is especially true when looking at the culturally responsive classroom of 2019. For example, in speaking to culturally restorative practices at the First Nations School of Toronto (Parent Discussion Night, January 23, 2018), Estelle Simard described engaging Elders, parents, and community members in how culture should be taught in school, and the importance of creating meaningful engagement that enabled families to both initiate and define how they engage with their child’s school.

Estelle provided an example of a community where the Elders wanted regalia making, the creation of traditional and sometimes sacred clothing and accessories, to be a component of the school’s curriculum. The school then aligned curriculum and opened the door for the community to share their knowledge on the subject, creating a community of sharing and mutual respect.

Building Bridges between the Home and the School

We work hard to build relationships with our students. In order to increase parent engagement, we need to further that hard work by building relationships with parents, caregivers, and the community. So how can we honour this in our own classrooms and begin building bridges between home and school? 

  • – Attend community events – and don’t be shy about engaging with parents. Even a small wave or nod will start you on the path to building trust and a positive relationship with parents.
  • Create a classroom culture that encourages constant dialogue between yourself and your students’ caregivers, and work together to determine how to best support their child. Remember, the dialogue must be reciprocal. At the end of the day, parents are the true experts when it comes to their child.
  • – Most importantly — listen.

One of the benefits of working with the Sprig Learning Platform has been that it provides me with the opportunity to connect my classroom to every one of my students’ home lives, and to provide parents and caregivers with the tools they need to reinforce learning in their own homes.

 
 
   
 
 
 
We started out with a classroom birthday party for a haptic-enabled moose puppet named Antle, who is the star of Sprig’s Learning and MK Education’s Oral Language Learning Program. We invited parents, grandparents, and caregivers into our classroom, and encouraged them to learn more about the literacy learning that happens every day at school.
We interviewed each caregiver on the iOS-based caregiver survey, and parents and caregivers gave us more information about the literacy learning that happens at home and in the community. We all had such a great time at the party, and the small interactions that took place really built trust and strengthened our relationships with the families. Even better, we established a two-way dialogue between the home and school, both in-person and through the Sprig Learning online platform. Our students’ parents can now see activities that we recommend to further learning in the home, and trust that we are both working together to lead their little learner down a path to success.

Parent-Teacher Partnerships Lead to Success

The lasting effect of parents and teachers working together is clear when we see these students grow into healthy, confident, and curious lifelong learners. It’s important to find the approaches and strategies that work best for your classroom, but always remember to listen, be open-minded, and to have fun.

 

This guest post on the Sprig Learning Blog was contributed by  Elise Twyford, a teacher and lifelong learner based out of Toronto, Ontario. You can follow Elise here.

For more information about a holistic approach to assessment or holistic education, book a demo today or send us an email at letstalk@spriglearning.com.