This blog represents most of the newspaper columns (appearing in various Colorado Community Newspapers and Yourhub.com) written by me, James LaRue, during the time in which I was the director of the Douglas County Libraries in Douglas County, Colorado. (Some columns are missing, due to my own filing errors.) This blog covers the time period from April 11, 1990 to January 12, 2012.

Unless I say so, the views expressed here are mine and mine alone. They may be quoted elsewhere, so long as you give attribution. The dates are (at least according my records) the dates of publication in one of the above print newspapers.

The blog archive (web view) is in chronological order. The display of entries, below, seems to be in reverse order, new to old.

All of the mistakes are of course my own responsibility.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

June 18, 2009 - beating the summer slide

For several years, I did 50 pushups, 50 abdomen "crunches" and 50 leg lifts every single day. It took me a minute and a half.

Part of the way I kept myself at it was by asking myself, "in 24 hours, you don't have a minute and a half for exercise?"

But then, with frightening suddenness, I suffered such intense shoulder pain that I could no longer raise my arms even to shampoo. I couldn't pull my wallet out of my back pocket.

The doctor told me it was tendonitis, no doubt brought on by my brief but intense daily regimen. Age may have had something to do with it, too.

I was bitter. It was like the time I threw out my back in my sleep. When you're doing something good (exercise is good, sleep is righteous), it seems to me you shouldn't be punished for it.

But there's the universe for you.

These days, I'm trying to put together a new system -- stress plus stretch. (My doctor prescribed physical therapy, not indolence.)

The reason I'm trying again is simple. When it comes to your body, you have just two choices: use it or lose it.

Which brings me to my actual point this week. Reading is the same way. The more you do, the better you get. The less you do, the worse you get.

So let's think about our children, on a much-longed-for vacation. Many will actually lose ground academically -- a phenomenon called the "summer slide." Parents, consider these facts, well-bolstered by research (by Barbara Hehns way back in 1978):

* The number of books read during the summer is consistently related to academic gains.

* Children in every income group who read six or more books over the summer gained more in reading achievement than children who did not.

* The use of the public library during the summer is more predictive of vocabulary gains than is attending summer school.

* "More than any other public institution, including the schools, the public library contributed to the intellectual growth of children during the summer."

In 1993, Stephen Krasher ("The Power of Reading") found that ...

* The longer free voluntary reading is practiced, the more consistent and positive the results.

* People who read more, write better.

* Reading as a leisure activity is the best predictor of comprehension, vocabulary and reading speed.

* "If children read one million words a year, at least one thousand words will be added to their vocabulary. (One study found this could easily be accomplished by letting children and teens read any format reading material they wanted, including comic books and teen romances.)"

* Studies also showed that spelling improved the more kids read.

* In summary, Krashen found that free voluntary reading resulted in better:

* Reading comprehension
* Writing style
* Vocabulary
* Spelling, and
* Grammatical development

There's more research, of course. (See http://www.nysl.nysed.gov/libdev/summer/research.htm#research for a summary.) But it all comes down to the same thing: reading makes your kids -- and you -- smarter. That's a good thing, right?

To that end, I'm happy to encourage every child, teen, and adult in Douglas County to sign up for our upcoming Summer Reading Programs. As it says on our website (http://douglascountylibraries.org/node/15054), "This is the summer to turn off the television and computer to pick up a good book and start reading. Children, teens, and adults can register for a reading program June 1 through July 13."

You won't be alone! In our first week alone, we signed up 5,360 kids, 1,064 teens, and 1,112 adults.

Every age group has a target for reading -- and a prize at the end. But here's the real prize: the more you read, the more you exercise your brain, the greater the capacity you build as a human being.

Push yourself up. Or did you think someone else would do it for you?

LaRue's Views are his own.

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