For all the academic steps forward students take during the school year, the summer slide causes many of them to slide a few steps back come summer time.

Valley of the Sun United Way is taking strides to combat this all-too-common “summer slide,” and they’re hoping that, by broadening the availability of books for young readers, local students will become that much more likely to pick one up and dive in. 

Dubbed “Open a Book, Enter the Universe,” the United Way’s new program seeks to prevent the loss of academic skills that often occurs between Memorial Day and Labor Day. Targeted at kids in preschool through fourth grade, the program is making it easier than ever for local youths who read just 20 minutes a day to earn free books in either English or Spanish. Active participants can also attend an end-of-summer celebration where they can earn even more complimentary books to take home. 

“Access to books is the key to summer learning,” said the United Way’s Dawn Gerundo, Community Impact Director. “This program is our way of ensuring that no child lacks access to books because of socioeconomic or similar circumstances.”

At summer’s end, United Way representatives will analyze data collected throughout the program’s duration to help determine just how much of a difference it can make when kids have easy and regular access to books. 

Seeking additional ways to help combat the summer slide? Here are seven suggestions for keeping kids active – and actively engaged – throughout the summer:

1.     Enroll children in fun summer classes and programs with educational activities. Boys & Girls Clubs offer affordable after-school and summer programming in several Valley areas. Programming focuses on academics, healthy choices and having fun while encouraging participants to be caring, responsible citizens. 

2.     Keep kids active despite the summer heat. YMCA offers everything from fitness programming to childcare and overnight camps for kids across the Valley, all of which encourage teamwork development and physical fitness. ICan offers free youth programming in the East Valley, providing children with a safe place to go while focusing on youth development, education, healthy lifestyles and job skills.

3.     Get kids outside when it’s not too hot. The Phoenix Zoo, for example, offers children a summer of up-close animal encounters and hands-on-activities as well as art projects, games, nature play, hiking opportunities and more.

4.     Keep kids reading throughout the summer. The Maricopa County Summer Reading Program encourages children to read at least 20 minutes a day and offers weekly prize drawings, challenges and badges for participants.

5.     Challenge their minds with fun activities. Valley of the Sun United Way distributes School Readiness Kits across Maricopa County and offers them for sale on their website. These kits help children between 3 and 5 years of age prepare for school with 80 different activities. 

6.     Expose them to culture. Phoenix Public Library offers Culture Passes to check out, which grant two people free admission into a variety of Valley destinations, among them the Desert Botanical Garden, the Japanese Friendship Garden and the Phoenix Art Museum.

7.     Ensure children are eating nutritiously. If children aren’t getting enough activity and exercise, obesity can set in. And for families struggling to put food on the table, Summer Meal Locations ensure that children and teens ages 18 and younger have access to complimentary meals at locations throughout the county.  

For more information or for helpful links on how to prevent the summer slide, visit