Improving Reading Skills vs. Summer Fun

Dear Dr. Linda,

Our son Mikey is completing second grade, but is still reading on first-grade level. That’s no shock to me because I had a lot of problems learning to read. His teacher recommended that he go to the school’s summer reading camp. My wife thinks that’s a great idea, but I don’t. I want him to go to a regular day camp where he can play all summer.

I was sent to those summer reading camps. They’re from 9 to noon, five days a week. Every afternoon I’d try to find a friend to play ball with or go swimming with. But all my friends were in day camp. I can’t speak for the other kids with me—maybe they loved it and got a lot out of it. I just remembering feeling so bad because I wanted to go to camp with my friends.

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My wife says that he’ll love it and that I’m suffering from the “grass is always greener” syndrome. Whatever it is, I can’t do this to him. Not being able to read is a punishment in and of itself, but it doesn’t have to ruin his summer too. I know because I was once Mikey myself.


Dear Allan,

When a child has difficulty learning to read, school is usually not a happy place for them. It’s not a good feeling for kids watching classmates move ahead while they’re still in the beginning level books, because it impacts self-esteem. It isn’t until much later that we can separate what we can and can’t do from our importance as people. And you know that no matter when you figure that out, the feelings experienced during those formative years don’t really go away when you “grow up.”

School experiences are no different than other childhood experiences. They stay with you forever. That little child in you is always there even though you have changed physically and have learned how to cope with life a little better. Many maladaptive adult responses are based on childhood experiences that were never dealt with properly at the time.

With this in mind, how do you decide what is best for Mikey? Begin by asking yourself, regardless of how he gets it, if Mikey would benefit from reading instruction over the summer. To help you with your answer, I’d like to share some research with you. It has been shown that by the end of summer break, struggling students who have not had instruction during the summer, fall further behind than where they were at the end of the school year.

Of course, not all students experience a loss. The children who love to read may read even more over the summer and see their reading skills improve. But, for the most part, when a child is struggling in reading, even more than in math, s/he will most likely slide backwards over the summer if she/he doesn’t receive remediation. Therefore, it is essential that Mikey receive reading help during the summer months. So, how do you accomplish that while guaranteeing that he has a fun and relaxed summer? Here are three options to help you and your wife decide what to do:

Option 1: Mikey attends the school summer reading program from 9 to noon, and then has every afternoon free to do what he wants. But, before you sign him up, be sure that the summer program the school offers specifically addresses Mikey’s needs. Also, contact day camps, his friends, town programs, etc., to help plan his afternoons. And although he is like you, Mikey isn’t you. Over variables are also at play—he may love the summer school program.

Option 2: Mikey attends a day camp that also offers reading support.

Option 3: Mikey attends a day camp and then meets with a private tutor after camp or on the weekends.

Dr. Linda

Have a tutoring or other school-related question? Ask Dr. Linda directly by emailing her at

The opinions expressed herein are the writer's alone, and do not reflect the opinions of or anyone who works for is not responsible for the accuracy of any of the information supplied by the writer.

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