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There's No Excuse Not to Book Time for Summer Reading

July 08, 1993|MARY LAINE YARBER | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; Mary Laine Yarber teaches English at Santa Monica High School

Most children are just getting down to the serious business of enjoying summer vacation, and it's a safe bet that not many of them or their parents are thinking much about schoolwork.

So let me be the curmudgeon who reminds you that the flexibility and length of summer vacation make it an unequaled time for choosing an academic skill for improvement, and then hammering away at it.

Sure, the kids can still enjoy all the usual summer pastimes; just add a little learning to the mix.

But which area should you choose for your child's summer learning project? I suggest reading--the most basic skill of all. To learn just about anything else, a student must first be able to read quickly and perceptively. In fact, about 90% of learning done in secondary school and college is via reading.

One of the best and easiest ways to help a child improve and enjoy reading is to read aloud to him or her.

Although it helps children of all ages, reading aloud is especially important for toddlers and preschoolers.

There are several advantages to setting up a summer plan in which you read aloud three to five days a week.

For example, your child will learn the most important key to all future learning: Reading is not to be feared and is enjoyable.

Reading aloud to your children makes the "book experience" fun because they don't have to work as hard. After all, they don't have to struggle with recognizing letters, sounding out words or turning pages in mid-sentence. The children can simply relax and focus on the suspense and pleasure of the story.

Reading aloud also helps children learn the proper rhythm and flow of language, and the correct pronunciation of words. If children don't learn these nuances, they will later read in a choppy, monotone voice that will make any story seem boring and discourage future reading.

So, when you read aloud, you can demonstrate the proper inflection and fluidity that make printed words more dramatic and interesting. And don't be afraid to ham it up; that adds to the enjoyment and excitement of reading.

There is also an emotional benefit: Reading aloud provides a period of physical and intellectual closeness. Your attention and voice are reassuring to your son or daughter, and your visible enjoyment of the book sets a powerful example.

Reading aloud to your toddler or infant can also help you monitor his or her vocabulary and basic comprehension skills because you can pause and ask the child questions about the story.

A few simple questions will help you check his or her comprehension, and exercise critical thinking skills, such as analysis, speculation and evaluation.

Start with the title of the story. Ask the child what the title means and what the story might be about.

While reading the story, point out the illustrations. Ask the child, "What is this a picture of?" or "What is happening in this picture?"

Ask which characters the child likes, which he or she dislikes, and why.

At a suspenseful point in the story, stop to ask your son or daughter, "What do you think will happen next?"

At story's end, help the child lean to summarize his or her reading. Mention a particular event in the story, then ask, "What happened next?"

If the story's character is similar to one in another story, mention that to the child and ask how the characters are alike.

Don't be alarmed if your child doesn't remember or understand a story after hearing it just once. Young children generally absorb stories bit by bit and usually must hear them several times for a clear understanding.

Reading aloud to your child may mean rearranging your schedule or having little less time to yourself. But it can also produce a ready and willing learner--and a closer bond with your child.

Finally, one last bit of advice: I know that it's almost tradition in California to do at least part of your reading in the summer sun, but excessive glare from the page can cause permanent eye damage. Make sure you and your child read together in good shade, or indoors with adequate light.

And bear in mind that this is one summer project that can (and really should) be continued year-round.

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