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Children Spend Less Time in Summer Reading Than Watching TV, Survey Finds

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By guest blogger Madeline Will

Reading books falls toward the bottom of the to-do list for children during the summer, new survey results show. Parents reported that their children (ages 5 to 11) spent an average of about six hours a week reading last summer. That compares with 16.7 hours playing outside, 10.8 hours watching TV, and 6.6 hours playing video games.

Despite that, 61 percent of the parents surveyed said they don't think their children lose reading skills over the summer months, according to the survey issued by Reading Is Fundamental, a nonprofit organization that promotes children's literacy. The survey was conducted online by Harris Interactive between April 7 and 18. It reached 1,104 U.S. parents of children ages 5-11 who are enrolled in school.

But summer learning loss has long been seen as a problem, and there's growing momentum by many educators and advocates across the country to tackle the issue.

One avenue is summer reading programs at schools or libraries, said Judy Cheatham, the vice president of literacy services at Reading Is Fundamental, in an interview. Children who participated in such summer reading programs last year were up to two times more likely to read every day, the RIF survey data show. Still, 51 percent of parents surveyed said their children did not participate in a summer reading program last year. Looking ahead, just 32 percent of parents said their children will participate this summer, while 41 percent said they aren't sure.

Why the hesitation among some families? Cheatham offered a few possible explanations, including a lack of nearby libraries and a lack of awareness about available programs. Also, 13 percent of parents consider "relaxing and taking it easy" to be the most important activity for their children this summer. (Twenty-six percent of parents said their children would agree.) Cheatham said some parents do not consider reading—or summer programs devoted to reading—to be relaxing.

"Pleasure and learning don't have to be mutually exclusive," Cheatham told me. "I think sometimes we say read to learn, but we can read to learn for pleasure." According to the survey results, children were twice as likely to read a book every day last summer if they wanted to, rather than if they had to. The key, Cheatham said, is for children to be able to choose for themselves which books they read. And reading over the summer is probably the most effective way to maintain or improve literacy skills, she said.

"The hardest vocabulary to teach is vocabulary about content areas," Cheatham said. "Learn this hard vocabulary in the context of a good book; you can't beat that. If you can read it in the context of a story line, where you see the pictures, then you're going to have something to hook on to. Whatever you read over the summer time, that's going to be your context."

Here are some additional tidbits from the study:

•    The vast majority of children—83 percent—prefer print books for summertime reading. Only 7 percent prefer tablets, and 4 percent prefer e-readers.
•    Almost 60 percent of parents surveyed said their children do just the right amount of reading in the summer.
•    Last summer, girls spent more time reading than boys—6.6 hours per week compared with 5.2 for males. And 21 percent of parents said reading was the most important activity for their daughters to do this summer, compared with 14 percent saying the same for sons.

The survey was released alongside the launch of RIF and Macy's 11th annual Be Book Smart campaign, which began this week and runs until July 13.

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