Summer Reading ~ Summer Singing
By Pam Leo

Summer is here at last! This is the time our children wait for all year, more time to play, more time to be outdoors, and more time to enjoy the warmer weather activities of summer vacation in Maine. However, it is also the time when adults worry about “summer-slide learning loss.” Many children do lose ground academically during the summer if they don’t live in a community that supports its families by providing summer reading and recreation programs for the community’s children.

The good news is there are some simple things we as parents, grandparents, and caregivers can do at home to reduce summer learning loss, and to maintain, and perhaps even increase our children’s level of literacy over the summer, and they are all free! The three most important things families can do are: talking, reading, and singing with children daily. These three activities have been identified by literacy specialists as the most important things we can do with our children to grow their brains and build their literacy skills.
Research shows that when we have conversations “with” children that different parts of their brains light up instead of when we just talk “to” them. Talking with children is one of the ways we stay connected. Children need that feeling of connection as much as they need food and they do not thrive without it. Too much screen time creates disconnection in families; children can only connect with living beings.

Both reading independently and reading aloud as a family increases children’s vocabularies. Reading aloud to children daily increases their listening skills and creates the connection that builds the strong parent-child bond that children need to thrive. A weekly trip to the library will provide both an outing and books to read for free for the whole family.

Singing is “portable literacy,” says Nancy Stewart, musician, and founder of She is so right! We can sing while we are doing lots of other things. We can sing with children when we are walking, hiking, cooking, gardening, biking, crafting, swinging, riding in the car, walking the dog, doing yard work, washing the car, having a picnic, and everyone’s favorite – singing around a campfire! Just by adding singing to any of these activities we add literacy building skills, loving connection, and joy.

What songs do you remember most fondly from your childhood? Do you now sing them with your children? The songs, verses, and rhymes we learned as children are the only things we now remember word for word. Most of us learned to sing our ABCs long before we could recite them, recognize them, or write them. The rhythm, rhyme, repetition, and vocabulary that children hear when we sing with them lays the foundation for reading beginning in infancy. The more we sing to babies and children, the more their brains grow. The younger we begin, the better. Eighty five percent of children’s brain development happens by age three! So much of what children need, in order to learn to read, needs to happen in those first three years. Babies need us to talk, read, and sing to them daily from birth.

Singing used to be a vital part of how we lived our daily lives. We sang songs to celebrate and we sang to grieve. We sang songs for every different kind of work, activity, and occasion. Today we mostly only listen to music. Unless one is a professional singer, or we sing in a chorus or choir, our singing is limited to Happy Birthday to you, singing the hymns at church, and maybe some Christmas caroling.

We now know that singing bestows multiple health benefits. Singing reduces stress by lowering cortisol levels. Singing boosts the immune system, and singing is a natural anti-depressant because it causes our bodies to release endorphins. Singing also releases oxytocin, the “comfort” hormone. Parents in every culture in the world sing lullabies to their babies to soothe them. Let’s give our children and ourselves the many benefits of bringing singing together daily back into our culture.

The Portland Public Library is offering an exciting summer reading program, “I Love Reading in Portland: Pedal Through the Pages,” that encourages children to read about and explore Portland. Children who sign up at the library for this free program will not only be provided with lots of suggestions for reading and fun summer family activities, if they reach their summer reading goals, they will receive a certificate, a book, a coupon for The Gelato Fiasco, a free Kid’s Meal from Subway, and a chance to win a bicycle from the Bikes for Kids program.

As part of PPL’s commitment to supporting early literacy, they are also offering a summer reading program for families with babies and young children. “Stroll Through Summer Reading” includes book recommendations and a game board of early literacy activities. When families complete eight of the early literacy activities they will be able to choose between receiving a board book, or the brand new, mini songbook, “Singing Is Key To Literacy, Transition Tunes for Caregiving Times.”

It is with much joy, and enthusiasm that I announce the arrival of the portable literacy, mini keyring songbooks, “Singing Is Key To Literacy, Transition Tunes For Caregiving Times.” These beautiful, very portable, tiny songbooks are the product of a collaboration between Nancy Stewart, founder of Sing With Our Kids, on Mercer Island, Washington, and me (Pam Leo) founder, Book Fairy Pantry Project in Portland, Maine. Our dream for these mini songbooks is that they will support parents, grandparents, and caregivers in giving children stronger early literacy skills, more connecting times, and help add more joy to every day.

Pam Leo, is a family literacy activist, the author of Connection Parenting, and a new poem, Please Read To Me. Her enduring love of children's books, her passion for literacy, and her commitment to empowering parents, are combined in her new role as the founder of the Book Fairy Pantry Project, whose mission is "No Child With No Books," because "Books change children's lives... For good."