Newswise — A Purdue University literacy expert has a simple piece of advice for children looking for ways to stimulate their brains in the summer in preparation for going back to school.

"Have fun, relax, enjoy yourself, read a book or two, and don't worry about the upcoming tests next school year," says Jill May, a Purdue professor of literacy education.

May, who specializes in children's literature, says virtually any book can be beneficial, as long as it holds the child's interest.

"Children should find books they enjoy and read them," May says. "Books give them a chance to escape into a new world. That's why Harry Potter is so popular."

May says teachers can see a big difference between children who read during the summer and children who don't because reading helps develop a wide range of skills.

"Kids who read can write," she says. "Kids who don't read as much can't write as well."

Much of that has to do with the way books teach about characterization - the motivation of characters and how they relate to one another, May says. This teaches young writers logical story development and how various characters fit in as a story progresses.

Also, she said, reading teaches future writers how to develop their "voice."

"Every writer writes with a tone, and that's how you learn it, by reading other people's writing," May says. "We subconsciously get a voice by what we read."

Reading has another important benefit. May says avid readers usually are strong spellers.

"Children learn spelling by reading and writing. Seeing the same words over and over makes for good spellers."

And all the skills reading teaches children can help when it does come time to take a test, because test taking and schoolwork involve more than studying and knowing the answers to a particular subject. Understanding the wording or phrasing of questions is often the key to giving the right answers, she says.

May says all parents can help their children develop an interest in reading by turning off the television from time to time and making a trip to the library to check out books or get involved in summer reading programs.

"Children succeed when they have been given the keys to success," she says. "Children are products of their environment. What a parent teaches them at home and what they learn at school create a formula for success."

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