Between the lines: encourage your child to read over the summer break

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 17 June, 2014, 10:01am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 17 June, 2014, 10:01am

With the summer break looming, many parents may be racking their brains about activities to keep their children engaged over the school holidays - not least to avoid the "learning loss" linked to youngsters who are left at loose ends for long periods.

A 2007 study by John Hopkins University, which tracked groups of students from Baltimore, concluded that a long break from books in the summer may mean children lose interest and momentum in reading.

Other research suggest that if children read four to five books during the summer, the effect may be powerful enough to prevent a decline in reading achievement. The long break is a wonderful opportunity for children to explore a range of fun books. The holidays are particularly helpful for parents whose children are struggling readers, as they can select books featuring topics or themes that might spark their child's interest.

Watching age-appropriate movies that are based on books can also serve as a catalyst for reading. Dr Seuss's The Lorax, Hergé's Tintin series, and Judi Barrett's Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs come to mind.

In his 2004 book The Power of Reading, Stephen Krashen, an education researcher and professor emeritus at the University of Southern California, highlights some important findings:

  • Children read more when they see other people reading.
  • Hearing stories and discussing them encourages independent reading.
  • Children who are read to at least three times a week read better.

As parents, we can help children experience the world of books by reading to them every day and having plenty of books around the house.

We can make reading fun by keeping children engaged in conversations about the story and its themes or characters.

Summer means there is more time for family excursions to libraries or bookstores, where children can enjoy a variety of books. For reluctant young readers who are struggling with more complex vocabulary, it's a great time to try audio books. Good narrators can convey the drama as the author intended.

How about using the time to explore the classics? You could try The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame, a favourite of my family. It's the kind of book that you have to read to young children to get them to enjoy the story. Another good way to introduce children to the classics is through the performing arts.

When I took my nine-year-old daughter to watch a production of the above by the Hong Kong Players in 2002, she immediately related to Mole, the kind-hearted Mr Toad and the Chief Weasel.

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum is another enduring tale. My daughter and I enjoyed the musical as well as the book, which we like to read again and again. We are both fond of the exploits of Dorothy Gale after she is swept into the Land of Oz by a cyclone.

My daughter even dressed up as Dorothy for her school's "book week" activity, so she could demonstrate her favourite character to her classmates.

There's also The Swiss Family Robinson by Johann David Wyss. The tale of a shipwrecked family who survive on a desert island with each other's support is as much of a lesson in overcoming hardship, as it is an adventure.

I enjoyed The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain as a child, even though it was part of an English assignment. I still enjoy reading it as an adult, for its excitement and its reminders of childhood moments.

Cantonese speakers may be interested in children's storytelling sessions and a talk for parents on June 21 at the Central Library by children's book author Tom Liu and Taiwan educator Sarah Ko.

There will also be sessions in Putonghua using Feng Zikain's award-winning books.

For more information, go to

Percie Wong is a trainer at Bring Me A Book Hong Kong, a nonprofit organisation dedicated to improving children's literacy by reading aloud to them