A piece of paper with a smiling flower on it went home recently with some Teton County students.
The goal? Color in a petal for every book they read during spring break. Students who fill up the flower and bring it back to school when classes resume earn a reward.
The simple coloring exercise, intended to motivate children during vacation, has a clear message: Spring break shouldn’t mean a break from reading.
Decades of research focus on what happens to students’ literacy over the summer months. But virtually none looks at what, if any, effect shorter breaks during the school year might have on academic progress.
Dana Robertson, executive director of the University of Wyoming’s Literacy Research Center and Clinic and an associate professor in the College of Education, said that although he’s aware of no spring-break-specific studies, time off school can be viewed in the larger picture.
“Reading is like anything else,” Robertson said. “It’s like playing basketball or anything else you’re trying to do. The more you practice at it, the better you get.”
Teton County is the only public school district in Wyoming to take a two-week spring break. All 47 others opt for one week in March or April, a shorter break around Easter or a combination of the two.
All public schools in the state are required to have the same number of student days per year, but elected school boards decide what the local calendar looks like, when school starts and ends and how long breaks are.
“So if students are taking two weeks off and not opening a book at all or reading online or reading text in some other form, then they are not practicing for two weeks,” Robertson said. “Will that have importance for decreased achievement? I don’t know.”
Higher-achieving students, he said, read more and more often.
Research says kids, even adolescents, should read at least 20 or 30 minutes a day in addition to school. That’s why the Teton Literacy Center hosted a book fair before the break at which students could pick out new and used reads with “book bucks” they earned.
“As with any break, it is crucial that children and youth continue to read at least 20 minutes every day,” Executive Director Laura Soltau said. “This daily routine is instrumental in maintaining reading accuracy and comprehension. At TLC we try to promote daily reading over breaks by ensuring students have exciting and new books to read over school breaks.”
She said students were “thrilled to leave with new reading material.”
As with summer slide, students of lower socioeconomic status are hit hardest by time away from school and academic supports. Some research says poorer students lose even more knowledge over the summer, and wealthier students, even if they’re not reading over the summer, don’t seem to lose anything.
That disparity likely plays out in Jackson, where working-class families might stay behind during break while more affluent families can partake in enrichment activities on their travels.
“When you go on a vacation to wherever, the child might not be reading a book for all of those days, but you are exploring new things and the child is learning about them and developing concept knowledge,” Robertson said.
If you’re staycationing this spring break, organizations have stepped up to make sure your children’s minds have plenty of stimulation. The Jackson Hole Children’s Museum is open during the break, 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. for the rest of the week and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Programming includes materials and instructions available all week for kids to make their own crafts, an opportunity Wednesday to build a parachute with provided materials and an opportunity Thursday to play with magnets.
Teton County Library is also following its normal schedule with STEM workshops, toddler time, a learning lab that focuses on genealogy and other events throughout the week. See TCLib.org for the full schedule of options, or just swing by and check out a few age-appropriate books.