Oliver: Freedom of choice can stave off ‘summer slide’

With most schools shuttered until fall, McHenry County’s kids find themselves on summer break. Many no doubt feel an exhilarating sense of freedom.

But from what exactly are they taking a break? Classes? A set schedule? Teachers? Rules?

Let’s hope it’s not a break from reading and learning. 

Educators often speak of the “summer slide.” They aren’t referring to those gloriously high water park slides that so many children dream of visiting.

The “summer slide” is the problem of children forgetting a lot of what they learned the previous school year and slipping in their reading and math skills over the break. So often kids “turn off” their brains and fail to practice these essential skills.

But who said reading and learning have to be boring? How can we get kids excited about keeping up their skills?

New research from Dr. Erin Kelly and Dr. C. Andrew Aligne of the University of Rochester in New York suggests that letting kids choose their own reading material can help them practice their reading skills and prevent the “summer slide.”

In their study, they found that when children selected books to read over the summer, they scored better on reading tests in the fall than those children who received books that they did not select for themselves.

One probably doesn’t need to be a researcher to figure out why. We all have a tendency to be more excited about reading about subjects in which we are interested.

Need suggestions about what to read? A visit to one of our wonderful local public libraries would be a good start. The children’s librarians often are founts of knowledge when it comes to appealing books for children of all ages.

For young adults who prefer adventure stories, I’d like to recommend a book that just came out this month. It’s called “The Boy Who Knew Too Much,” written by Jeffrey Westhoff and published by Intrigue Publishing. It’s available at bookstores and through online retailers.

Many readers might remember Jeff as the Northwest Herald’s former film critic and feature writer. “The Boy Who Knew Too Much” is Jeff’s first published novel, and it’s excellent.

In it, Milwaukee teenager Brian Parker finds himself in the middle of international intrigue while on a school trip to Europe. Brian, a fan of spy novels, never dreams he will find himself in the middle of a plot worthy of the characters in his favorite books.

As he is being chased across the European continent, he meets up with a beautiful French girl, Larissa, and together they try to stay a step ahead of a rogue CIA agent and a criminal mastermind who is after them.

The novel is fast-paced and offers a bit of a travelogue along with the action. Even adults will find it enjoyable. I know I did.

If you’d like to get a copy and meet the author, Jeff will be speaking and signing copies of his book from noon to 1:30 p.m. Saturday at Read Between the Lynes, 129 Van Buren St., Woodstock.

With so many excellent books to choose from out there for children to read, there’s bound to be something that will spark their interest. They’ll be entertained and won’t even realize they are staving off the “summer slide.”

Sneaky. But worth it.

• Joan Oliver is the former Northwest Herald assistant news editor. She has been associated with the Northwest Herald since 1990. She can be reached at

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