I’m a big fan of reading. It’s been my favorite reason to stay up late since I was old enough to do it on my own. But I have happy memories from long before that when my parents, usually my dad, would read us bedtime stories. He very patiently read the Disney version of Cinderella to me hundreds of times. He read us novels like A Wrinkle in Time. My mom read me Little Women and got us a hardcover classic children’s book every Christmas for years. I’m looking at them on the bookshelf now and wondering when I can trust my own kids with them. Remind me, when do kids outgrow the paper-eating stage? Anyway, whether your kids are lap babies or pre-teens, there are lots of reasons to read to kids in the summer, and lots of fun reading activities you can try.
Model fluency and vocabulary
So this is the boring, teacher-y reason to recommend reading to kids this summer. Reading books to your child lets them hear how good reading sounds. It exposes them to structures and rhythms and vocabulary words in good books that they can’t read on their own yet. Or, even if it’s an old favorite that they can read on their own, they can learn from the way you read it, the places you pause and the questions you ask.
You can read your child books they might not pick on their own. Stuck on superheroes? Maybe it’s time to introduce them to Harry Potter or Percy Jackson. Loving fairies? How about Peter Pan? Read them old favorites from your childhood or browse the librarians’ recommendations at your local library for new favorites. Read to them from magazines or the newspaper. Check out the books that have been made into their favorite movies. Find a biography of a favorite athlete or historical figure.
Making a point of sitting down and reading to your kids this summer is a way to make sure you spend some quality time with the family. I know “Quality Time” is a cliche and that it puts pressure on busy parents to not just keep their kids alive, but to Make Memories. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t true. Think about summer as an opportunity to slow down and do this one thing that will get your whole family sitting in the same place, not fighting over toys, not begging for snacks, and not watching TV.
A break from the midday heat
My kids are pale little creatures, about half Irish. Sunshine is their kryptonite. So whatever I can do to keep them out of the sun between about 11 and 2, when the sun is strongest and shade is hard to find, becomes my favorite activity. I won’t lie, a few days a week that’s a nap for the small one and an after-lunch Netflix matinee for the big one. But when everyone is awake, it’s a great time to sprawl all over the couch and read out loud.
The couch or your kids’ bedrooms are great places to read, but reading out loud to your kids doesn’t have to mean getting snuggled up. You can show your child how to read for information, like reading guide books to plan your summer vacation or reading the directions for their new swingset. When my curious 4-year-old wants to know something, he asks, “Can we watch a video on YouTube about it?” That’s the easy way to find out something new, but reading is not obsolete. Find a book or a website about the things your child is curious about and show them how to read for information. It will be easier now than it will be when they are back at school and following their curiosity is put aside in favor of research and reports.
Start a new tradition
What’s the most relaxing place for you? Do you love lying on a picnic blanket in the park? Chairs on the beach? Rocking on your back porch? In a tent, listening to the crickets? Think about what makes you happiest – then add a book. You don’t have to make every book you read an amazing adventure, but you can give your children the powerful gift of remembering reading as relaxing, warm and fun, something you do because you love it.
I started this blog post with half a dozen tabs open with all kinds of research I could cite about why reading to kids makes them happier and smarter and makes their sweaty socks smell better (OK, no, it doesn’t do that). But really, parent to parent, I say read to your kids this summer because it makes everyone feel happy. And if you’re dreading it for some reason, it’s time to try something new. New place, new time, new reading material. It’s summer. Have fun!
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