At a parent presentation this week, a mom explained that her son’s kindergarten teacher recently sent a letter home saying that he would benefit from reading support in preparation for first grade. The problem is that their summer plans have already been made, and the timing of the offered support didn’t fit their schedule. She was wondering if she should upend her family plans, or not.  

That’s a really good question. What should this family think about as they decide whether formal summer reading instruction makes sense?

To begin, there are questions to ask the school about what kind of help the child needs. In other words, what skill does he need to work on? The school should have a specific understanding of this, and a particular plan for helping to build the skill — and that information will help the family make a decision about what to do over the summer.

    1. If he needs help with Letters & Sounds–the mechanics of reading–there is real reason to help him become automatic with letter names, upper and lower case, before grade one begins, plus more comfortable with the sounds that most letters make. With targeted instruction and practice, he would enter first grade with more skill and therefore confidence around decoding, and he would have less of a risk of falling behind. Of course a parent could help at home with building Letters & Sounds skills, but would first need to know what should be covered, and would also need to feel as if such regular practice over the summer is doable (i.e., Would the child balk? Is it feasible with the family schedule? Etc.). The other option, if the school program for building Letters & Sounds skills doesn’t work for the family, could be a program through another source or a trained tutor. This might sound like a lot for a 5- or 6-year-old during the supposedly carefree days of summer, but being prepared for first grade reading instruction is a really good idea, and the  “work” might not feel like work at all if the setting is positive and he feels good about all he is learning. That’s the benefit of early attention to any skill issue!
    2. If they think he needs help building Vocabulary & Knowledge skills, it would be good to get a clearer idea of the types of issues they are seeing and what kind of instruction was planned to help him.  Maybe an intentional focus on reading lots of books and talking about them, plus having different types of experiences that build language and beef up background knowledge all throughout the summer weeks, would be a more intensive experience (that is, more “dosage” than a short summer school session) and would better prepare the child for the fall. A good conversation with the teacher would help a parent decide.
    3. If he needs help with Awareness & Regulation skills, again, ask what kind of skill issues are they noticing, and what kind of instruction was planned to help him. Maybe an intentional focus on helping him control his mind and body makes sense to take on as a summer goal for home. That would mean, for example, sticking to routines and helping him own his behaviors around going to bed, getting up, getting out the door to camp, etc.; playing lots of board games and helping him follow the rules, take turns, lose graciously, etc. Again, having a discussion with the teacher about an alternative at-home plan, and seeing if that makes sense from his/her perspective, should help with the program decision.

There is also reason to know how far behind the child is on any of these skills. Does the teacher think just a concentrated effort at home would be enough? Is there real concern that the child needs a more intensive plan based on where his skills are compared to his peers?

Remember, finding out early about reading-related issues should make a parent feel good, not bad (that’s why we created Abound Parenting– to help parents know where their children are on the way to road to reading!). The earlier an issue is addressed, the better the child will be served in the long run. So any parent who gets a note from the school should investigate, determine the seriousness of the problem, and then address the information with gusto — either by taking it on at home in a focused way, and/or by getting some more targeted support from a professional. In fact, the “work” could and should be fun, so reading doesn’t become something he prefers to avoid.