Blogger Renee Grassi

How Summer Reading Programs Can Help Your Child with Special Needs

Children’s librarians work extremely hard to promote our annual summer reading programs.  So hard, in fact, we have no problem dressing up in ridiculous costumes, telling corny jokes, and practically losing our voices (gotta love those school assemblies!) just to encourage children to read during the summer.  It may be easy to sell the program to kids who already love to read, or just like reading enough to win nifty prizes.  What about those kids who struggle with reading every day because of their learning disability?  Do the things we say during our school visits reach those kids?

The National Center for Learning Disabilities just published an article entitled “How Library Summer Reading Programs Can Help Your Child With LD.”   It highlighted several tips for parents about how children with learning disabilities and other special needs can participate in a library’s summer reading program.  One strategy that was included was for parents to look into digital book options for their child with special needs.  As the article says, “Digital books engage readers in multisensory ways and can make books accessible to people with dyslexia and others who struggle with printed material.” Ereading is reading, too.  Free online resources, such as Learning Ally and Bookshare, are accessible online libraries specifically geared towards those who have print, reading, and learning disabilities.  It’s also important for our patrons to know that they have eresources available at their libraries like Tumblebooks, Book Flix, Zinio, 3M, and MyMedialMall for their child to download.  With more and more book apps for kids are being launched each day, selecting the right book app for their child may be a daunting task for parents.  Resources like Common Sense Media and their list of Best Book Apps for Kids are perfect to share with parents who are looking that perfect app to engage their child and get them reading over the summer.

What I love most about a library’s summer reading program is that it brings the community together.  Everyone has the same goal, which is to read, of course.  And no matter what you read or how you read it (listening to audio books, ereading, shared reading), everyone can participate and be included.  Children with special needs may not always feel like they are included during the school year, especially if they are in a separate reading group or classroom.  During the summer at the library, though, barriers are broken down and all children are invited to participate.  And for families with children with special needs who may not always feel included in other parts of the community, this is essential.

It’s no secret to us as librarians that our summer reading programs make a huge impact on the lives of children.  However, sometimes we need to sell things a little differently to those parents that may not know the value of a summer reading program in their child’s lives.  A national study from Dominican University’s Graduate School of Library and Information Science entitled “Public Library Summer Reading Programs Close the Reading Gap” finds that students who participate in public library summer reading programs:

  • score higher on reading achievement tests at the beginning of the next school year than those that did not participate
  • spent more time reading over the summer and read more books, were well prepared for school in the fall, and read more confidently
  • returned to school ready to learn, improved their reading achievement and skills, increased their enjoyment of reading, were more motivated to read, were more confident in participating in classroom reading activities, read beyond what was required in their free time, and perceived reading to be important

These are just some of the many reasons why we need to promote and advocate for our summer reading programs to children–all children–in our communities.  For more information about learning disabilities, click here.  And for summer reading recommendations for children with learning disabilities, take a look at this great list.

How are you making your library’s summer reading program inclusive?  Share your ideas here!


  1. TessP

    What a great post Renee, and a great reminder to everyone that summer reading club is supposed to be a fun, stress-free way to enjoy all that books and stories have to offer kids over the summer. There are so many great ideas here and I don’t have much to add except that we all may wish to make an extra special effort to personally invite any kids with disabilities / learning delays or whatever to join in whatever fun you have planned for your SRC and point out the different ways they can participate with comfort. I like to emphasize audiobooks, and not just for kids with learning issues, but any kid who wants to experience a great story that is a grade level or more above their current reading ability. I don’t make a big deal out of all the “benefits” of SRC – for the kids, I focus on the fun we have planned (art activities, scavenger hunts, parties etc). Thanks once again for great reminder to think about the kids who may be struggling in school for a variety of reasons – those reasons need not interfere with their experiences at summer reading club! Cheers, Tess

  2. Renee Grassi

    You are definitely right. It’s important that we advocate for an inclusion in all of our library programs. Thanks so much for your feedback, Tess! 🙂

  3. Dan Kleinman of SafeLibraries

    “Resources like Common Sense Media and their list of Best Book Apps for Kids are perfect to share with parents who are looking that perfect app to engage their child and get them reading over the summer.”

    Great, thank you.

    But other parts of ALA censor and blacklist Common Sense Media for its book rating system:

    YALSA Board of Directors Meeting via Conference Call, August 29, 2013; Intellectual Freedom Committee Report,” by Michael Giller, YALSA Board of Directors, American Library Association, August 2013:

    ALSC used Common Sense Media on a great websites list until it was caught and removed from the list. ALA did not endorse it. Additional ALSC committees wanted to endorse it.

    Also at

    “Caught and removed”? I’m hoping you as ALSC will stand up to this censorship, even if it from other organizations within ALA.

    Truly this is shocking. And look, it comes from the “Intellectual Freedom Committee.” Yeah, right.

    Will you restore Common Sense Media to the list for educators and others from which it was removed?

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