Reading to children early in their lives is very important. It's also vital that they learn those skills themselves when it is developmentally appropriate. The early hallmarks of literacy, such as letter and word recognition, are one of the main predictors of success as children grow.
Summer vacation provides a much-needed break for many students, but it contributes to others losing some of the skills they have gained if they don't have the opportunity to practice them at home. Hosting a summer reading program at your church is a fun way to help children in your neighborhood keep their skills sharp so they can start the next school year strong.
The type of program you will be able to host depends on the space you have available. While most of the reading will be done off-site, you will still need room for events throughout the summer. If you have a library on your church property, you may have to take into consideration the seating limitations and thus limit registration numbers or choose a larger area you can use. Reserving the location you will need for each event provides the backdrop for all your planning.
The simpler your plan, the more children you are likely to be able to reach. For example, one of the easiest programs to run is to ask children to set their own personal reading goals for the summer and provide the resources and encouragement they need to reach them. Depending on the ages of the children involved, you can pick a theme for meetups, parties and publicity:
- Fairy Tales
Every program needs volunteers. Even if most of the summer is spent just helping students track their reading accurately, you will require people who can be counted on to keep consistent records. There should also be a few events to help keep the children in the program motivated. You may have volunteers from book clubs talk about their favorite books and give recommendations to older students. Younger readers may benefit from story time, and you will need people to volunteer to be readers or storytellers. Anytime you run a program for minors, you must keep in mind your state's ratios for children to supervising adults to ensure the safety of everyone involved.
Once you have a theme and have set the dates for your major events for the summer, it's time to make your program known to the public. Depending on your resources, you may choose to invite anyone in the city or limit participation to those in surrounding neighborhoods or from nearby schools. You can partner with educators to get the word out to those you think may enjoy the program. Consider advertising with mailers or by posting a flier at the public library. Finally, make the program a prominent feature on your church's website and social media pages.
The culmination of your program should end in a celebration. Your final event should be designed to recognize what the children accomplish over the course of the summer. Even if you have a special prize for those who reached their goals, every child should walk away with something, because any amount of reading is a cause for praise. Consider asking local bookstores to donate literary paraphernalia such as bookmarks or small notebooks for participant gifts. Church members may also want to get involved by donating books so each child can pick out their own book to take with them once the program is over.
The overall message of your summer literacy program should be that reading is fun and rewarding. If the children learn that at an early age, there is no limit to what they can accomplish.