Summer reading: a strategic approach

Summer reading is an important, enjoyable activity students can do to help avoid the 'summer slide' in reading achievement during the holidays. To help keep students reading over the summer, students need  support from schools, libraries and families.


Why summer reading is important
What the research shows
Research for pleasure
Why we need a strategic approach
Creating an evidence based initiative
Holiday reading

The summer slide in reading is characterised by progress in reading achievement throughout the school year, followed by a decline during the summer holidays away from school. To help keep students reading over the summer, students need a community of support. This jigsaw diagram illustrates the cohesive nature of a strategic, national approach to summer reading, connecting families, schools and libraries.

Summer reading partnerships graphic

Why summer reading is important

Away from school over the long summer holidays some children and teens spend less time reading. Often, it's those who can least afford to lose their year’s reading gains who fall the furthest behind. The 'summer slide' can also be seen in other curriculum areas such as Maths, and on levels of confidence generally.

Reasons some children and teens don't read over the holidays include:

  • lack of access to books and other reading resources
  • no opportunity to practise reading
  • no-one encouraging them to read
  • having no reading role models
  • receiving little or no support for reading.

“Reading gives us someplace to go when we have to stay where we are.”
Mason Cooley

What the research shows

A number of international studies into children’s reading loss over the long summer break have shown that:

  • the consequences are cumulative and long lasting, often having a powerful influence on reading scores throughout high-school and beyond
  • low-income children fall further behind than their classmates – the loss is less pronounced or absent in students who have access to books and holiday learning experiences such as travel, museum visits, or other similar experiences
  • it is harder to close the gap once it has opened, so the earlier the intervention the better.

Read more about research into summer reading and the summer slide

Reading for pleasure

Summer reading is about reading for pleasure. Therefore it's important children and teens get to choose what they read with the focus on relaxation and enjoyment - without requirements for “work” such as writing book reviews or maintaining reading logs. Instead children could keep a record of their reading through sites such as Goodreads, or taking note of author / title / star rating. 

Stephen Krashen is an ardent proponent of Free Voluntary Reading (FVR), especially during school Sustained Silent reading (SSR) times. This article from Education World  Free Voluntary Reading pays big dividends emphasises holiday reading as reading for fun and pleasure.

Teacher William Marson shares his success in motivating sixth-graders to read using a program he calls Reading for Fun (RFF). - See more at:

FVR is Sustained Silent Reading in its purest form. No requirements! No book reports. No journal entries. No chapter questions. No required home reading. 'Its a chance for students to kick back and read, no strings attached,' says William Marson, a 6th grade California teacher who introduced RFF (Reading For Fun) to his students.

Why we need a strategic approach

Teachers, families, public and school libraries all have important and complementary roles to play in keeping children reading over the summer. The more co-ordination, collaboration and communication there is, the more successful we will all be in achieving our common goal of children reading for pleasure and academic success.


Students are at the heart of summer reading. Summer reading needs to be as accessible as possible and students need support on multiple fronts with access to:

  • reading material
  • reading role models
  • strategies for reading success
  • encouragement and acknowledgement. 

Reading for pleasure is the most important motivator. You can also let students know that reading over the summer will make a difference to them academically.

When it comes to choosing what to read, peer student recommendations are the most powerful.

‘Students are four times more likely to read something recommended to them by a peer than by a teacher’ (MORI poll, 2003).”


Parents / families and whānau

Parents / families and whānau have enormous influence on students’ holiday activities and reading mileage. They are the most influential reading role models and enablers. The focus is on helping families understand:

  • why summer reading makes a difference to students
  • what they can do to help make it happen, and
  • how to keep summer reading a positive and enjoyable experience.

For parents of younger children there will be a big component of reading aloud time as part of summer reading programmes.

Read families supporting summer reading.

Public libraries

Public libraries offer summer reading programmes for students to:

  • encourage them to join the libraries
  • borrow reading material
  • participate in a variety of activities or challenges around their holiday reading.

Schools can do a lot to help families connect with their local public library to make the most of their free services. This means specific summer reading programmes as well as regular services, resources and programmes.

Read Public libraries supporting summer reading.


Schools can do so much to scaffold students into summer reading. In particular they can develop a school-wide approach to summer reading. With the Principal’s leadership and endorsement, co-ordination between teachers, and collaboration with the school library, your school can build a culture of reading. This will reach beyond the school walls and beyond the school year.

Read Schools supporting summer reading.


Teachers have a vital role, providing students with:

  • reading motivation and encouragement
  • effective techniques for finding / choosing what to read
  • comprehension strategies and problem-solving skills to tackle reading difficulties
  • reading role models and a reading community
  • the reading habit by having daily independent reading time in the classroom.

Read Teachers’ supporting summer reading.

The school library

The school library has the potential to be a KEY resource in helping students maintain their reading mileage during the holidays. It can be accessible to all students – especially important in areas without a local public library nearby. It can:

  • provide resources and recommendations
  • build enthusiasm and excitement
  • support teachers
  • connect with families in the school community.

Read School libraries supporting summer reading.

Creating an evidence based initiative

Creating an evidence based summer reading initiative in your school is an important way of preventing the summer slide. It also reinforces a reading culture in your school with all of the literacy benefits for students that this promotes.

It is a good idea to put together a team, which includes the school librarian and teachers, to take responsibility for your school's summer reading programme. When only one person has responsibility, the long-term sustainability of any intiative is at risk.

Read planning a school wide-summer reading initiative - includes template you can use to audit current practice and policy in your school. This which will give you baseline data for developing new strategies and taking an evidence-based approach.

Holiday reading

The long summer holiday break leads to the most pronounced loss for students not reading enough. But every school holiday is an opportunity to promote “holiday reading”. Soon the idea of finding something to read when not at school is reinforced, practiced, and becomes “business as usual”. 

Mahurangi College Library created a slogan - Take a book break - which they promote at the end of each term to students and staff. This has proved an effective brand for their holiday reading programme. 

Some libraries run a “winter reading programme”, where the activities might suggest curling up by the fire to read instead of reading at the beach.
See Christchurch Libraries Winter Reading Club with its variety of “reading challenges”.

Image: Maunu School student reads on a rock