SHERIDAN — Summer means a three-month break from school, but it shouldn’t put an end to learning. To keep their minds sharp, students should read every day over the months of June, July and August.

Judy Dougherty, Sheridan County School District 2 elementary school reading recovery lead, focuses on bringing first-graders up to reading at grade level. She said at least 30 minutes of reading per day is ideal.

Tongue River Elementary School principal Annie Griffin agreed and mentioned the importance of making reading fun during summer.

“A kid who finds that joy in reading is going to take off a lot better than a kid that has to be forced to read,” Griffin said. “… We’re just trying to get them to understand that this can be for enjoyment. It doesn’t have to be something that’s just required.”

In addition to fostering an enjoyment of reading, another aspect of summer literacy involves reducing “summer slide,” which happens when students’ comprehension skills atrophy due to a lack of reading over the summer.

Like a sport or musical instrument, a student’s reading ability improves with practice. Dougherty can usually tell how much a student has or hasn’t read over the summer. If he or she didn’t read too much, it can be tough to come back up to speed in the fall.

Griffin said one of the first questions teachers ask upon returning is how much a student read when school was out of session.

To encourage bookworms, TRE holds a reading challenge over the summer and aims for students to read at least 1,000 minutes total. If the students complete the reading challenge, they receive another book and take part in a small celebration at the beginning of the school year.

“We just try to incentivize as much as we can but try to incentivize with things like books,” Griffin said. “… It’s not about the prizes, it’s more about getting another book and enjoying literature.”

This year also entails a new aspect for TRE, with teachers reading picture books out loud on the website for students and parents to listen to if they choose.

Dougherty also noted the importance of choice. It is vital to allow students to pick what they want to read because they are more likely to finish something they find enjoyable. Students also may not have as much time for exciting reading options during the school year, so allowing for pleasurable books can help.

In summertime, Griffin and Dougherty don’t differentiate between fiction and nonfiction, nor is there a distinction between informational and leisure reading. It could be a picture book, chapter book, comic book or graphic novel. As long as a child reads for at least 30 minutes per day, that is fine with them.

In addition to a child reading silently, other options include parents and children alternating reading aloud, having a student writing and illustrating their own book and occasionally listening to audiobooks.

Griffin said a combination of reading and listening to books is ideal. Audiobooks can improve listening comprehension, pronunciation and vocabulary, but nothing can replace reading words on paper.

In addition to encouraging students to enhance their literacy skills, Dougherty said it is crucial to explain to parents how to best handle summer reading.

“They’re the biggest component,” Dougherty said. “Modeling it, giving the opportunity, setting the expectation and encouraging — I really think that parents are their first teachers.”

Griffin concurred.

“When they see their parents enjoying a great book, then they’re more motivated to try to do that same kind of thing,” Griffin said.

To help provide suitable reading materials for children of different age and skill levels, SCSD2 has a book checkout program at different elementary schools over the summer and encourages families to visit the Sheridan County Fulmer Public Library as often as they can.

Dougherty said literacy is the most important skill for a student because it forms the basis of other aspects of education.

“Reading is really at the foundation of everything,” Dougherty said. “Being able to read for meaning, not just to read words, but to really understand what they’re reading, is the key.”

In summer, the most important aspect involves a student simply reading, regardless of the type of book, and teachers and parents can ideally work together to bring about the best long-term results.