“Stop poking your brother.”
“I just fed you!”
“Where are your shoes?”
“Go read a book. A book. Yes, a book!”
Summer is officially underway. Have you checked the calendar yet to see when school starts again?
Kids seem to fall into two groups when it comes to reading. There are those that are begging to go to the library again to trade their huge pile of books for another. And then there are those who need to be urged, inspired, begged or forced to read. There are so many other things a child can do with a summer day and for many, reading falls pretty low on that list.
Does it even matter if your kids read in the summer?
It sure does. You may have heard of the summer slide. The summer slide is the tendency for kids to lose skills (up to a month’s worth of learning!) over the summer. While the risk is greater in math, some students also lose reading skills, especially kids who struggle. In my experience as a teacher and tutor, what school-age children tend to lose is reading stamina and the ability to think through a question or problem. Getting their brains running from a standing start in the first week of school can be hard for all of us.
Some schools will assign specific summer reading and expect children (usually middle school or older) to take a test or discuss the book when they get back. Obviously, these assignments impact your child’s grades and have the potential to get their year off to a rough start if they don’t read the book or read it well. Other schools set a more general expectation for reading and might give you suggested book lists for your child’s grade.
How do you get your kids to read in the summer?
So once you decide it’s important, how do you get your kids to sit down with books and make the magic happen? Routines, Reminders, Rewards and Requirements. There are other ways, but I couldn’t think of any others that start with R, so here we go:
Pick a part of the day and make it a routine that everyone takes out a book and reads at this time. (No fair playing on your own phone while they do this. If you can’t sit down and read, take yourself to another room or they will call you on it.) For some families, first thing in the morning works, while others take a siesta after lunch for reading and relaxation. Bedtime is a nice time to read, too, but any part of the day that you can make consistent for your family this summer will do the trick! Shoot for 20-30 minutes, depending on the age of your kids, but if that’s hard, start with 10 minutes and work your way up. Play quiet instrumental music, dim the lights, or go to the room with the coolest air conditioning if it helps your kids get comfy.
I know. You’ve been reminding your kids to read, and you’re still reading this post looking for better ideas! Other ways to remind/inspire your kids to read are: make the books available and appealing. Think about the way the book store displays best sellers. Stand them up in the kitchen next to the snacks or feature them prominently on the coffee table. Keep a stack of picture books in the car or in the bathroom, wherever your kids seem to spend all their time.
There’s some research that shows that rewarding kids for spending time reading can actually backfire, so tread lightly with this one. One thing that has been proven effective is rewarding kids for reading by getting them more books. This can be awesome if your child gets into a series and you can reward them by picking up the next one at your bookstore or library. My public library has moved their summer reading club online. My four-year-old doesn’t totally get it, but I think it’s great for school age kids. We type in the number of minutes he read, and we can list his books. He earns digital badges for reaching each goal for minutes of reading. This program also has other non-reading tasks that match the summer’s theme. For example, this year’s theme is space, so one task was naming all 8 planets. (I can’t help it. I keep typing 9. Poor Pluto!)
And I don’t care what the research says. If you need to make lemonade when you finish The Lemonade War or go out for butterbeer when you finish a Harry Potter book, by all means, celebrate reading! (Where does one go for butterbeer, anyway?)
I saved this one for last because it’s my least favorite way to get kids reading. But some kids are never going to get the chance to fall in love with a book because they will never open one on their own! For your reluctant and resistant readers, you might need to make reading a “must-do” before they go out to play or get screen time. I know some parents don’t give the kids the wifi password until they’ve finished their chores for the day.
It doesn’t have to be books
The cool thing about summer reading is you do not have to limit yourself to books. Of course, that’s true all year, but it might feel more true in the summer when there’s no reading log for the teacher or homework. It counts as reading if your child reads travel guides for your summer vacation, reads stats and game recaps for their favorite baseball team, or even reads magazines about their favorite video game or reality TV star.
You might get your kids involved in reading recipes to bake a cake or reading directions to put together a new toy. My son is starting to read and is fascinated by cereal boxes and whatever comes in the mail. That won’t be enough to keep your sixth grader’s brain active all summer, but my point is find those moments for reading wherever you can!
One student I tutored had a summer “reading” assignment to listen to a podcast. For older children who are really focused on story and comprehension, podcasts and audiobooks still “count” as reading. There are some great podcasts for younger children, too, like Shabam! and Eleanor Amplified, but they don’t give the same eyes-on-the-page practice that your beginning reader needs to become fluent. They are still great for car rides and quiet time.
Read with them
Your kids are not too old to be read to. Oh, I don’t know how old your kids are? Doesn’t matter. I just wrote a whole post on reading out loud to kids, so I won’t repeat myself here, but I think reading aloud is a totally underappreciated way to connect with your kids and bring them a love of stories.
And if your teenager absolutely will not sit still while you break out the Shel Silverstein poems, try reading what they are reading. Let them recommend a book to you and read it, even if it’s incredibly lame. I think taking book recommendations from your kid can be especially challenging if your child has interests totally unlike yours. You might have to read about war battles or awkward middle school crushes or robots or proper English ladies pining for a husband. You might not love it. But how can you expect your kids to take your book recommedations seroiusly if you don’t read the books they recommend? You will have something new to talk to your child about and you might learn something important about the way they view the world.
Make it a game
I was thinking about all my memories of reading in the summer. As a teenager, I loved pulling a chair out onto the deck and putting my feet up on the railing. I read A Tale of Two Cities on a hill in the shade in a park near my house. I couldn’t read in the car, but I read everywhere else! I remember getting wet thumbprints on the book pages by the pool and reading in the evening, freshly showered, in front of the fan.
I made a summer bingo board to try to inspire kids to find some of those same reading moments that I loved so much. Put in your email address below and I’ll send it to you, too. I’ll send you some updates, too.
So what are your favorite tips and tricks for getting your kids reading in the summer?