The end of the school year is upon us and students across the state are looking forward to sleeping late, basking in the sunshine, and splashing into swimming pools. 

Another necessity on that list of summer must-haves? Reading.

As a parent, you are your child’s first teacher. You help set the tone for his or her lifelong educational experience. When education is a priority at home, your child is more likely to see the value of it. The same goes for literacy. You don’t need to be an educator or to have a Ph.D. in English literature to make reading an important part of your family. Just by talking about books, encouraging your child to read, and engaging your child in conversation, you can help put them on the right path.

All you need to do is talk, read, and listen.

Talk to your child about books, superheroes, sports, their friends – whatever they like. Historically, the number of words to which children were exposed was believed to be the lynchpin of their language development. Earlier this year, however, MIT scientists released a study that suggests that dialogue – taking back-and-forth conversational turns – is actually more critical to language development. In other words, just by engaging your child in conversation, you’re supporting their development.

Read to your child, or encourage them to read, every single day. The same flexibility applies – the reading doesn't have to come from school assignments. They can read magazines or comic books, a sci-fi series or poetry. It’s easier to read fluently when you’re also reading joyfully, and that is only possible when children are able to use reading as a means to explore the things that interest them.

Listen to your child read and listen to what he or she has to say. Point out labels and street signs, and ask what they say. Ask for help reading recipes while you’re cooking dinner, or ask your child to read aloud from homework.

When you take these small steps to encourage conversation and make reading a priority in your home, you are making a big difference for your child. That's true during the school year and especially in the summer months, when students can lose two months or more of academic progress – a phenomenon known as summer learning loss, or summer slide. 

Come back-to-school time, and for years to come, learning loss poses a significant challenge because the ability to read fluently is critical. Literacy is the strong foundation upon which all academic achievement is built, which is why Governor Raimondo has called on the state’s education leaders to double the number of students reading proficiently in third grade by the year 2025. The Children's Cabinet, comprised of the Governor’s leaders across state agencies, created a comprehensive plan to achieve this goal, because when kids can read fluently and joyfully by third grade, all of life’s opportunities are that much more achievable.

Teaching a child to read opens up possibilities. Help us make those possibilities come alive by making reading a priority in your home. This summer, and all year long, please remember to talk, read, and listen.

Ken Wagner is Rhode Island’s commissioner of elementary and secondary education.

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