Parent Perspectives on Summer Reading

Parents have big dreams for their children, and they see education as playing a central role in achieving those dreams. At the same time, they have a lot to say about who they trust and what they need to support their children’s learning.

One focus group participant put it this way. “Let’s just say I have a friend named Keisha and you  (pointing to focus group leader) come to her and you are telling her that you need to work on your child’s development during the summer and all you just said, she might get offended because you said it. But if she (points to another focus group member) says it she might take it a different way. That’s the way it is.”

The responses were from an effort by the The North Carolina Early Childhood Foundation (NCECF) to better understand parents’ perspectives on summer reading. NCECF surveyed and conducted focus groups with parents whose children attended three high-poverty schools in Durham County that partner with Book Harvest, a Durham nonprofit organization that provides books to children. The work was funded by the United Way of the Greater Triangle.

Parents have an important role to play in supporting children’s summer learning. Understanding what resonates with parents and what they need to support their children’s summer reading can help summer reading programs better engage parents. During the summer, children living in low-income families lose two to three months in reading, while their peers from higher-income families make slight gains. This loss is cumulative. It is also preventable with regular reading and high quality summer learning programs.

Key findings include:

  • The messenger matters. Information coming from peers is more credible than information coming from program professionals.
  • “Parents, you are your child’s first and most important teacher,” is not an effective message.
  • Parents want to support their children’s learning during the summer, but feel constrained by limited time and limited access to books.
  • Parents may be aware of summer learning loss, but less so about the role of reading in learning loss prevention.
  • Parents say more information about the benefits of summer reading, tips on how to read with children and access to more books would most help them support their children reading regularly during the summer.
  • Spanish-speaking parents want greater access to books in Spanish. They also want specific help with supporting bilingual children.
  • Parents preferred positively framed messages about the importance of summer reading combined with information about summer learning loss.

The report is available online at