It’s been a whirlwind month for LitWorld founder Pam Allyn, who just returned from a four-week-long driving tour to advocate for children’s literacy across the country. Pam, her husband Jim, and their adventurous dog Dewey piled into the car, and criss-crossed through more than 16 states meeting with teachers, parents, students, community leaders and others, learning about the barriers to literacy many American communities face and working with those communities to develop solutions.
One major focus of the tour was the “summer slide,” a term used to describe the phenomenon of children losing their reading skills over the summer break. This “slide” is especially apparent among lower-income kids, who lose up to 3 months of reading development during the vacation. Over time, this can put lower-income students years behind their middle-class counterparts.
“Affluent kids get to go on vacations and trips,” Pam said, “but most kids aren’t really doing that sort of thing. We must give our kids a way to learn and think differently throughout the summer. We all need that, even adults. It’s important that we work to change our brain a little bit. We all have a responsibility to think about the way kids learn all year, and make a 365-day commitment to kids. We can have that serious joy in the summer and have fun and learn at the same time.”
Summer months are absolutely critical in the reading lives of our kids, and this message resonated deeply with everyone Pam met on her tour. “I met so many amazing people in our schools,” she said, “but we still have so many challenges. One thing I wonder is if we are looking at kids as having strengths rather than deficits. A strength-based approach means leaders will look at kids as coming into school with strengths already; really believing in kids. We have to believe every kid can learn to read, and sadly, that’s not always the attitude people have. The mission to educate people has to begin with literacy, and we’re ten steps behind if we don't believe that we can all do this.”
“Not thinking about kids’ learning lives in the summer is very outdated, but right now, we’re in a new world and and there’s no reason to waste all that time,“ said Pam, “but it has to be a community commitment. Kids’ reading skills don’t always have to be cultivated in schools. It can happen in churches or community centers.”
The understanding that learning happens not only within a classroom, but throughout the entire community, is inherently understood by many educators and parents. They clamored for resources to help prevent the summer slide, and one of Pam’s solutions was the signature LitWorld and Scholastic program, LitCamp. “LitCamp closes that summer gap and creates a 365 day-a-year commitment to kids’ education; it's a way to reframe the school year,” said Pam, “The results that are coming back show that kids in LitCamp are surging ahead as readers compared to kids who aren’t involved, and they’re having a great time to boot. It’s truly summer camp, reimagined.”
LitCamp’s newest curriculum includes a 14 week-long Family Messaging program. Teachers are provided with a set of text messages (see below) to send to families once a week through school messaging services to encourage them to read and tell stories with their children at home. This programming integrates classroom with community, and fights the summer slide by making reading an integral part of family life.
“In spite of working against a lot of odds—poverty, prejudice—the teachers and leaders I met believed so much in their kids. And that is a big part of how we make change. I was struck by how dedicated people in education really are, it is very extraordinary, and these are untold stories. It feels like such a movement. I even met with kids who are reading to their parents on a regular basis! Sometimes we look at our country and wonder how we are doing, and really, at the local level we are doing awesome,” Pam said.
Pam, Jim, and Dewey championed reading across the country, and can’t wait for the next LitTour! So many stories were shared—stories of triumph, fear, sadness, joy, and hope. These stories illuminate the wish we all share: to give our children the education they deserve, and grow a love of reading that will last forever.