Summer is here and school is over or just about over for most of our area's children. Over the next few months of sun and fun, you can still work in opportunities for your children to read and learn.

In 2011, the American Academy of Pediatrics published an article stating that one in six children are spending more time texting, emailing and tuning into social networking sites instead of reading. A study by the National Literary Trust found that children in Britain read less as they age and spend an excessive amount of time texting, emailing, and checking out social networking sites.

As a parent and pediatrician, I can not emphasize enough how important it is to encourage children to read at an early age. As parents, we can help foster a love of reading that will last a lifetime. Children's curiosity and passion for reading will open doors for more opportunities in life and teach them more about the world and themselves.

Just because it's summer, doesn't mean you should put aside chances for learning or reading a new book. Here are a few suggestions for how you can add reading to your child's summer vacation: Summer is a great time to visit your local library and see what the children's section has to offer. Many libraries offer special children's programs during the summer - just ask them for their calendar. Most library cards are free and you can read a new book every week.

Does your child show an interest in the outdoors or animals? Summer is a great time to read about our world around us and how it changes with the seasons. You can go on a nature hike and later read about the plants, trees, and animals you've seen.

Is your child going to a summer camp? If so, what is the theme? Children are naturally curious. If they're going to a summer camp, whether its theme is art, science, animals, horseback riding, or a sport, why not read more about it when you're together in the evening?

Do you have a vacation planned for this summer? Before you go, involve your child in the planning by reading about the history of the area and what sites and attractions are available. If your child is too young to read on his own, you can start his love of books by reading aloud to him everyday.

Reading aloud to your children every day encourages them to enjoy reading and to continue reading through their school years and into adulthood. The benefits of early literacy skills have been proven to reach beyond the first five years of a child's life. Children who are read to throughout early childhood are often more successful academically and socially when they start school. In fact, building early literacy skills helps a child enter kindergarten with a larger vocabulary and stronger language skills.

SVMC Pediatrics at both the Northshire Campus in Manchester and in Bennington is a part of the non-profit Reach Out and Read (ROR) program. Every time you bring your child who is between the ages of six months and five years in for a health care well-child visit, you will receive a free, age-appropriate children's book. I love being a part of this program, as the gift of a book always puts a smile on a child's face.

So seize the opportunities that summer presents for reading and learning. Put down the video game and your smart phone and close up the lap top. We only get a few months of summer in this part of the country - let's get out and enjoy it!

Dr. Lynn Mann is a pediatrician at SVMC Pediatrics with office hours in Manchester and Bennington and is available for new patients. To schedule an appointment, call (802) 362-4440 in the Northshire or (802) 447-3930 in Bennington. Physician services are provided by Dartmouth-Hitchcock Putnam Physicians. To learn more about SVMC Pediatrics, visit svhealthcare.org. "Health Matters" is a weekly column meant to educate readers about their personal health, public health matters, and public policy as it affects health care.