Summer Fun for Struggling Readers

A month-long camp at Tufts combines remediation with inspiration

child learning to read

Miller Hall was transformed into the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry this summer, and students from second to fifth grade were sorted into the school’s four houses—Gryffindor, Hufflepuff, Ravenclaw and Slytherin—based not on their personalities, but their reading levels.

The makeshift Hogwarts was the backdrop for the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, the theme for this year’s Tufts Summer Reading Program. Run by the Center for Reading and Language Research at the Eliot-Pearson Department of Child Study and Human Development, the month-long summer camp helped 30 struggling readers gain more fluency through a mix of remediation techniques and motivational strategies that made their lessons fun and memorable.  

“About half of our kids have been diagnosed with dyslexia, and their experience in school is that they’re working incredibly hard to make sense of the written language and they don’t understand why it’s so difficult for them,” says Melissa Orkin, G13, who directs the program. “We have a series of strategies embedded into their instruction to help them feel like they are in charge of their learning, and that process is just as important as the products of knowledge.”

Each year, the program employs six educators from Boston-area school districts—special educators, classroom teachers and reading specialists—who want to learn best practices for helping students with difficulty reading; they are joined by six Tufts undergraduate and graduate students from the Department of Child Study and Human Development and the Department of Education who support the program as apprentices.

The Summer Reading Program is designed to counteract the phenomenon known as the “summer slide.” According to the National Summer Learning Association, most children lose an average of two months of skills over the summer; students in low-income areas can lose up to three months. Orkin says the loss is even worse for children with learning disabilities.

“We have an ambitious goal to use this critical time to actually try to expand and develop their skills in both literacy and non-cognitive skills, like persistence, engagement and motivation,” she says.

It’s not all work and no play, though. Each day, an hour is set aside for non-academic activities, such as playing games, story time or listening to a guest speaker to reinforce the idea that reading can be, well, magical.

In the seven years the program has been offered, more than 200 children have participated, and families have come to Tufts from as far as Saudi Arabia to enroll their children; the four-day-a-week program costs about $1,300.

Summer Reading isn’t just for students with language-related disabilities, however. A large number of participants come from urban school districts that do not have the capacity to help students who have fallen so far behind.

Divya Amladi can be reached at

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