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FROM THE INTERN: The many benefits of books

It’s probably not surprising to parents that reading can help prevent kids from losing knowledge during the summer. When little brains sit idle for three months, losing information is common, and reading is a simple way to dodge the “summer slide.” But when kids are so focused on having a fun-filled summer, books are often overlooked.

However, students who participate in summer reading programs don’t just maintain reading skills from the previous year, they gain more. This research is what led to summer reading programs, which are in place in 95 percent of public libraries.

“I think what really surprised me is that it’s not a huge amount of books that kids have to read during the summer,” said Anne Lundquist, children’s librarian at Cloquet Public Library. “It’s six books. And that can prevent kids from losing their knowledge from the year before, preventing the ‘summer slide,’ as we call it.”

Just reading six books over the summer can combat the learning loss that many kids face when not in the classroom, and it even helps them make gains in their reading and vocabulary test scores. In comparison, kids who don’t read during the vacation can see their reading skills drop as much as an entire grade level. Events at the library that encourage kids to read could be the perfect solution to this immense setback.

Having access to a large selection of books is the most important step, and the Cloquet Public Library (and other community libraries) provides just that. Oftentimes, students of a lower socioeconomic status are at a disadvantage because they don’t have the same resources and at-home libraries that a wealthier student might have. Local libraries help to provide equal opportunities for all students to sharpen their reading skills during the summer.

However, one significant problem is that summer reading programs often attract more girls than boys.

“In the summertime I concentrate on doing my preschool and baby storytimes, and at those young ages I don’t see a gender gap at all,” said Lundquist. “I think it comes more in third grade and up. You see girls with big stacks of books and boys are like ‘I don’t see anything that I want.’”

The Cloquet Library fights this disparity by offering popular books and games that often appeal to boys, as Lundquist explains.

“Here we have a lot of boys who play the computers, so we’ll see them for that. The Minecraft books are also really good for attracting boys. Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Percy Jackson — a lot of those books are wonderful because they’re so popular and they grab everyone’s attention.”

Programs at the library — such as crafts and gaming — help to motivate kids to utilize the library for other activities as well.

However, it’s not just young kids who need to read during the summer, it’s teens, too. Although many high schools require summer reading as part of the English curriculum, it’s also important for students to read books of their own choice. Reading materials of interest helps create a lifelong love of reading for students who often feel they have better things to do with their time. Librarians are great for helping students from kindergarten through grade 12 find a book they will enjoy.

“I think just asking questions, finding out what the kid is interested in, that can do a lot,” said Lundquist. “And I’m not that wound up in the AR (Accelerated Reader) levels like they are at school. So I have the freedom to show them a book in the adult section that might capture their attention.”

In addition to traditional literature, the library has graphic novels and magazines, which can also spark an interest in reading.

No matter how summer reading programs are measured — books read, time spent, page count — the benefits are all just as great. Students who read during the summer are more likely to enter the school year reading above the level expected, and feeling confident about it. As students get older, and school gets harder, these benefits become invaluable.

When it comes to school success, summer reading can be the difference between a high achieving student, and a struggling student.

“[Summer reading] makes my job worthwhile,” Lundquist said with a smile. “It’s what the library is here for, so kids can enjoy reading a book for fun or a book that furthers their interests, and they might grow into a career or hobby from that.”

So, what are you reading this summer?

Writer Marie Osuna is a summer intern at the Pine Journal and will be a senior at Cloquet High School this fall. She wants people to know that the Cloquet Public Library offers summer reading programs for all ages, ending on July 25. In the fall, the library plans to offer family engineering nights to help kids become interested in science.