Friday, June 5, 2009

Summer Reading

I know this is probably not a popular opinion among parents, but I have never been in favor of summer reading (or any other) assignments for kids. Especially for kids younger than High School. I am a firm believer that summer is for relaxing, exploring, family time and simply being a kid. There is so much pressure on kids today to always be performing - even in their leisure activities. And it starts at an extremely young age. I can't state strongly enough how opposed I am to this mentality. I have always been thankful that the school district I live in does not have summer assignments until Middle School (and even then not all teachers assign it). The High School does require the reading of one book (chosen from a list of 4) for every student in 9th through 12th grade. That seems reasonable to me.

Imagine my surprise when I read an article in our local paper yesterday morning reporting that more and more school districts in Rhode Island are rethinking the assignment of summer reading. Some are choosing to eliminate it all together and others are choosing books that are more appealing to kids. I think that's a good start. Even as an avid reader myself, I can't imagine the torture of a HS student struggling through Moby Dick, A Tale of Two Cities, Shakespeare or even Tom Sawyer without the the benefit of classroom discussion. The old classics that we all read in HS are certainly valuable literary works, but read on their own, they are just not accessible to most teen readers (or many adult readers, for that matter). Those types of books need to be read with the guidance and analysis that can only come from reading in a structured setting under the tutelage of a skilled teacher. I am glad that more school districts and teachers are finally coming to this conclusion. Now maybe we can reclaim summer vacation for our children and our families.

Image from Googe images

20 comments:

valentine said...

huh, i never had summer reading assignments when i was in school, granted i went to school in KY and apparently they don't have the best education system....

i did do the summer reading program at the library and i remember enjoying that (i guess because it's voluntary)

politicians and teachers are getting more and more insane about pushing children at younger and younger ages, can't be a good thing......

Alex the Girl said...

I have to agree with you on this one, and I'm a reading teacher. The one thing I truly dislike is being forced to read something. I know that the intentions behind these reading programs are well intended, but summer is...well...SUMMER! Our district sends out booklets, and students are asked to complete them, and those that choose to do so are rewarded when they return to school. Good idea? Ah, I don't know...some kids like to do stuff like that, but some parents force their children to complete the books. Eh, I'm all for school being OUT! Summer doesn't last long enough in my opinion.

C said...

Ah, I strongly remember my first ever summer reading assignment...Anna Karenina. I was 13 years old, and I hated that book with the heat of a thousand suns. I imagine that if I was reading it today (which, due to the trauma, will never happen), I might like it more, but my poor mother had to force me to read 20 pages a day in order to finish the book by the time school started, and I hated every breathing minute of it.

Then we had our first day of class, and the teacher asked what everyone had thought of the book, and I spoke up and said that if you took out all the discussions about Russian politics and farming, the book would be about 200pgs long, and might actually be readable.

Everyone just stared at me for a moment, and then the teacher started laughing hysterically. Yup, I started being snarky and sarcastic young!

Pam said...

valentine - Summer reading programs sponsored by libraries, etc are fine as long as the kids want to do them. Required reading, especially of books that normally wouldn't appeal to kids, are what I have a problem with.

Alex - Glad to hear that a reading teacher agrees with me on this. I sure wasn't expecting that! Summer should be assignment free in my opinion. REading for fun can always be encouraged, but required. I don't agree with that.

C - That is exactly what's wrong with required reading. Anna Karenina for a 13 year old. Come on! First of all, 13 is too young to really understand that book and secondly that's a perfect example of a book that should be read during the school year under the guidance of a teacher. I'm not sure many 13 year olds are going to get much out of that book -if they even read it at all.

Anita said...

I had to think about this post for the day. You see, I'm raising non-readers here it appears. My daughters do not have a love of reading like I did in my youth. They read what the "have" to read and NOTHING else, except for the occasional magazine and million texts! My son enjoys reading, but he puts up a fight to not read when he sees the girls not reading. I was always the encourager of reading to keep your abilities sharp, and I let them pick books and topics they wanted. I now have one daughter that will be happy to tell you there are NO books that interest her, none..........argh!
I struggle with absolute freedom from reading all summer and gently prodding and encouraging 30 min of reading a day. Our HS does not require it unless you are taking an AP course.
I struggle daily with this......all.summer.long.

Pam said...

Anita - I felt it was important to respond to your comment here (publically) in addition to in a email. This is EXACTLY why I don't think SCHOOLS should require reading. For kids who don't like to read, it's pure torture. And usually the book choices don't help. Now, on the other hand, if parents want to encourage reading and even REQIRE some daily reading, I think that is fine. The kids can choose what to read. And I think magazines are fine. The point for these kids is to get them to read. It doesn't even matter what it is (in my opinion). It's the REQUIRED text, the REQUIRED assignment that I'm opposed to. Especially for kids who don't like to read. These assignments will not do anything to foster a love of reading. A good comic book just might, though. Good luck! I feel your pain and frustration. As a fellow book lover with a daughter who doesn't read ANYTHING (even required texts) I can commiserate.

Tammy Howard said...

Oh, Pam, you've touched upon something tom and I have been talking about for years.... We force everything on them younger - they have to do so much more than we did just to keep up - and we call it progress and brag on them. Then when they become interested in sex and drugs and things like that, we shake our heads in disbelief and say we can't believe they're into these things so young... We are DOING this to our kids and I hate it.

Of course I want my kids to read over the summer - and both of mine do like reading. My youngest has a nice list of things she's been waiting to read because during the school year she was too busy with what was being assigned. If she had assigned reading over the summer, too, she'd never learn about reading for pleasure...

Alex the Girl said...

Pam, I hope you don't mind me butting in for a sec. Anita, when the girls were younger, we'd have a reading session for 30 mins minimum, along with hot, spiced tea (the draw for the second girl who hated to read). They could read whatever they wanted and once the 30 min was done they could take off to do whatever. I agree with Pam, let them read magazines if that is their choice...reading is reading! Their middle school years were horrible though. Our school has a required reading program, AR (Gods, I cant remember what it stands for...oh yes..accelerated reader), and we (reading teachers) were told that we had to assign grades to our students according to their progress, it gave them a percentage score. Well, needless to say, teen one was fine, she's a natural born reader, but teen two balked, bucked, and b*tched the entire four years at middle school. She just wasn't a natural born reader, hated reading, and when reading, was a slow reader so by the time she was done and could quiz on the material, a lot of the details were lost to her. It wasn't a pretty picture. Now, left on her own in high school (with slight encouragement but not pressure from me), she's in the process of reading the Twilight series. Go Cay! My sister was the same way...didn't read a stitch except the occassional magazine...now in her late 30's, she reads just as much, if not more, than I do.

Tammy's second paragraph response says it perfectly...If you're too busy reading what's been assigned, how will you learn about reading for pleasure.

Midlife Jobhunter said...

Wow, everyone write so much! My kids never had assigned summer reading from school. But we always went to the library every week for their own books. All boys so of course we were in non-fiction most of the time. I also read to them every night until they were 14. At least the older two. Poor youngest, night activities took out that special time with us when he was 11. I read them novels and my husband read on the nights I wasn't home for some reason. Might seem odd to some, but they would stand at my bedroom door and say, "You gonna read tonight?" All of us us crowded on the bed or on the floor. Best part? I got to read all my favorites from childhood as well as the new children's literature.

My friend read to her girls until they left for college. Great time together. I would never trade it. Guess I agree, school summer reading - no.

Midlife Jobhunter said...

I really need to proofread before I send.

Terra said...

We read all summer,but not because we have to - because we want to and that is the way it SHOULD be!

Gamma Sharon said...

Wow, my kids never had summer assignments. But then, they grew up in CA where the schools are not so good. It really is a shame. We moved to AZ for one year when my girls were in 4th and 6th grade and just moving one state away they were behind a year.

Mary at My New 30 said...

I had no idea that schools did this! Course when I was in school, I read over the summer - because I liked to, not because I had to!!

Gail said...

I agree too -- I actually hate required anything over the summer! Our school give out a HUGE list of recommended books for Middle School (I don't know about the high school yet) and the kids are asked to read 2 books and write a paragraph about one of them. Any kid who hands in a list with more than 4 books gets invited to an ice-cream party by the Librarian (whom I love) one of the first weeks of school. At the party she also does a drawing and for every 4 books you read you get another ticket for the drawing and you get to choose a book to keep. I have 1 reader and 1 not...it is a struggle to get Maia to read. I think if she read more, she'd be better at it and like it more.

Shawna said...

While I can see your perspective and I do believe that summer vacations should be spent relaxing with family, I disagree! I think that summer reading programs, if not enforced, should be strongly recommended to students starting as young as they come.

If you want the kids to be able to compete in school later on, let alone have a firm grasp of the classics (of which there are SO MANY), students need to start early and go at it diligently.

Granted, if the student dislikes reading and it's a tedious chore, any reading is better than no reading. But magazines (unless they're the Economist, National Geographic, Time, Psychology Today, Mental Floss, etc.) is just a waste of precious time!

I did have required reading all throughout elementary, middle, high school, and while it was tedious at times, I see the benefits now that I am in college. In fact, I wish the books had been more classic than contemporary "kid-friendly" reads. Now, I feel that I am playing catch-up. I'm reading Kurt Vonnegut, which, although deep, should be an easy read and enjoyable for high school students. I don't think I ever studied him back then. Same with Orwell's Animal Farm.

Shawna's Study Abroad

Superjaxster said...

As one who was tortured with summer reading, I completely agree with you. I love to read and wouldn't have minded if we were given books that teens would enjoy, but it was always things that were, for the most part, way over our heads. Then we had to outline them! Most times kids just ended up copying off each other...sad but true! A Tale of Two Cities is a great classic, just not for a 15 year old. Plus getting to study the deeper stuff in class gives you a lot more perspective. I remember a whole lot more from the books we discussed and were assigned to read while in school, but very little of the summer reading.

Pam said...

Alex - I LOVE that you "jumped in" and responded to Anita's post. That's what's so great about the comments section. I love to see some good back and forth here.

Sharon - I used to live in AZ as well. I lived in Scottsdale for 4 years and Ahwatukee for 10. AZ is not really known for its school system either. Though Ahwaktuee's was actually pretty good.

Gail - Rewarding the kids who read more than is required is not really fair to those kids who just Do. Not. Like. to. Read. Some kids love to read and will do it regardless of ice cream and other rewards. I think the whole mentality of summer assignments is wrong. You said it well - no required anything in summer. It's summer!

Shawna - Thanks so much for visiting my blog and leaving such a well thought out comment. It is interesting to hear the opinion of someone who is still in school. I agree with you that reading should be encouraged, but I don't agree that it should be required. For kids who really don't like to read requiring it is not going to accomplish much except make them dislike reading even more. And for reluctant readers, getting them to read anything (even magazines) is valuable. All reading is good. Not just the classics. I still feel that the classics are best read with guidance for maximum understanding and benefit. And please, don't stress out too much about all the classics you haven't read yet. You've got your whole life ahead of you to "catch up" on them. BTW, I checked out your blog. Enjoy your summer!

Pam said...

Superjaxster - Thanks so much for stopping by my blog and leaving such an insightful comment. I really appreciate it.

Any you have stated this so well. It's true the kids will get more out of AND remember more from books they've read together in class. Well said.

Gwendolyn B. said...

I went to school so long ago, we never had summer reading lists -- but I read all summer long! You are so right about the classics - save those for the classroom and let the kids read books that are more accessible and appealing during the summer.

Ronnica said...

I think I only had one required summer assignment, and that was for an honors HS class. I hadn't realized there was anywhere that required it. My mom was always good about keeping our brains working throughout the summer. It was a break, because we only did a couple of hours (including chores, instrument practice, and some sort of physical activity) in the morning and then had free time the rest of the day (or whatever summer activity we were doing). We weren't forced to read, but my mom set the example and inspired a love of reading (she read to us nightly, year-round), and so my brother and I read gobs of book all summer long. I think it's the parents' responsibility--not the school--to do this. My mom did a great job...my brother and I are still readers to this day.

 

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