Busting the summer slide myth and unlocking the magic of school holiday reading


The ‘summer slide’; is described as the dip teachers find in children’s cognitive ability when they return from the six to eight-week break over December-January.

But many psychologists debate whether this effect is real.

In his essay Facts and Fiction About the So-Called Summer Slide, Dr Peter Grey from Boston University argues that the summer slide is a myth.

“As I’ve argued in my book and many essays in this series, the most important lessons of life cannot be taught and can only be learned in real life,” he says. “In real life, we learn how to make our own decisions, how to create our activities, how to actually do things as opposed to memorise things. For school children, summer is a time for immersion in real life. School, at best, prepares children for more school. Real life prepares children for real life.”

- Advertisement -

Whether you agree or disagree with his opinion, it’s hard to argue with the fact that the long, (often lazy) days of summer are a great time to develop a reading habit.

Read for pleasure – not just education

Head of Australia Reads, Anna Burkey, says reading for pleasure outside of school is critical to fostering children’s independent love of reading.

“The ‘choice’ aspect of reading outside of school is particularly important – Australian research from Scholastic shows that for 89 per cent of children (age 6-17), their favourite books are the ones they have picked out themselves,” she told EducationDaily. “Reading in the home environment can also be a special time for sharing reading between children and parents or caregivers.”

“A 2015 Australian research report showed that 86 per cent of children (age 6-17) said they loved being read books aloud at home or liked it a lot – the main reason being that it is a special time with parents, while a recent UK survey showed that 81 per cent of parents see one of the benefits of reading is to enjoy quality time together, while 68 per cent cited bonding as one of the key motivations to read with their child.”

- Advertisement -

The family that reads together…

One idea for the summer holiday could be to create a book club at home and host a reading night with the family.

“Reading for pleasure, and being surrounded by books at home, has also been shown to have a strong correlation with academic achievements – so time spent reading outside of school also feeds back in a positive way to the school environment in the long run,” says Ms Burkey.

“According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), children’s participation in reading for pleasure has dropped from 79 per cent in 2017–18 to 72 per cent in 2021–22.

“This means that more children are missing out on the incredible benefits – both in school and out – that reading for pleasure provides.”

The summer holidays present an opportunity to introduce your child to local reading groups – libraries often host summer reading programs – allowing them to meet new, interesting people and develop their reading skills.

- Advertisement -

“Summer presents a unique opportunity for children and parents to engage in reading for pleasure, free from the pressures of school and busyness of term time,” says Ms Burkley.

“Reading has been shown to reduce stress and improve mental health and well-being, so spending time with a book may also help increase some of the ‘downtime’ benefits that summer provides.

“While reading is often seen as a solitary activity, summer is also a great time for gifting, sharing and talking about books with friends and family, and leaning into the social aspect of reading.”

Holiday reading rules

Australian Children’s Laureate Foundation Board Member and Education Consultant Ron Gorman says reading for themselves allows children to explore what is important to them.

“Holidays are a good time for parents and caregivers to read to their children,” he told EducationDaily.

- Advertisement -

“They can expose young readers to different or more difficult stories, building comprehension and vocabulary. This starts conversations and creates the idea that reading is a crafted pursuit,” he says. “The more stories children and young people are exposed to, the more they develop the capacity to understand themselves and others better. Stories allow them to see different characters, build personal empathy and build on their passions.

Dr Bree Kitt is a lecturer in Education (specialising in the fields of Language, Literacy, Literature, Curriculum and Education) from Central Queensland University; she says the summer slide in reading is well documented, but there is still much debate about the extent of its effect.

“Understandably, this can make some parents anxious about the summer and how to promote reading (particularly if their child is a reluctant reader) when the sun is shining, calling children away from their books,” she told EducationDaily.

“Summer, though, is an optimal time for children to experience reading for relaxation and pleasure, not just academic gain. This might be instilled through parents reading with, or in front of their children, or scouring libraries, thrift stores and book shops for the perfect read, or taking advantage of some of the reading programs on offer.”

As the 2021–22 Australian Children’s Laureate Ursula Dubosarsky said: “The only way to become a good reader is to keep reading. Every single book we read makes us a better

Share This Article