What Can Families Do to Keep Children Reading During the Summer?
By Laura J. Colker, Ed. D., Source: RIF Exchange Show #407, Reading Is Fundamental
Published: July 6, 2009
As children’s first and most important teachers, families have a major role to play in motivating children to read during the summer months. There are many strategies families might employ to encourage summertime reading. Here are tips offered by Reading Is Fundamental:
- Combine activities with books.
Summer leaves lots of time for kids to enjoy fun activities, such as going to the park, seeing a movie, or going to the beach. Why not also encourage them to read a book about the activity? If you’re going to a baseball game, suggest your child read a book about a favorite player beforehand. In the car or over a hot dog, you’ll have lots of time to talk about the book and the game.
- Visit the library.
If your child doesn’t have a library card, summer is a great time to sign up. In addition to a wide selection of books to borrow, many libraries have fun, child-friendly summer reading programs.
- Lead by example.
Read the newspaper at breakfast, pick up a magazine at the doctor’s office, and stuff a paperback in your beach bag. If kids see the adults around them reading often, they will understand that literature can be a fun and important part of their summer days.
- Talk it up.
Talking with your kids about what you have read also lets them know that reading is an important part of your life. Tell them why you liked a book, what you learned from it, or how it helped you—soon they might start doing the same.
- Help kids find time to read.
Summer camp, music lessons, baseball games, and videos are all fun things kids like to do during the summer. However, by the end of the day, children may be too tired to pick up a book. When planning summer activities with children, remember to leave some time in their schedules for reading. Some convenient times may be before bedtime or over breakfast.
- Relax the rules for summer.
During the school year, children have busy schedules and often have required reading for classes. Summer is a time when children can read what, when, and how they please. Don’t set daily minute requirements or determine the number of pages they should read. Instead, make sure they pick up books for fun and help find ways for them to choose to read on their own. You may even want to make bedtime a little bit later if you find that your child can’t put down a book.
- Have plenty of reading material around.
Storybooks aren’t the only thing that kids can read for fun. Be sure to have newspapers, magazines, and informational material on hand that might spark the interest of a young reader.
- Use books to break the boredom.
Without the regular school regimen, adults and kids need more activities to fill the hours. Books that teach kids how to make or do something are a great way to get kids reading and keep them occupied. Don’t forget to take your kids’ favorite reading series along on long road trips.
- Read aloud with kids.
Take your children to see a local storyteller or be one yourself. The summer months leave extra time for enthusiastic read-alouds with children, no matter what their age. Don’t forget to improvise different voices or wear a silly hat to make the story that much more interesting!
The Coordinated Campaign for Learning Disabilities has developed its own list of tips for parents to make summer reading enjoyable, particularly for children with learning disabilities. Like RIF’s suggestions, CCLD’s recommendations include reading aloud, setting a good example, and going to the library regularly. In addition, they have a few other helpful ideas:
- Read the same book your child is reading and discuss it. This is a great way to use books as a bonding tool.
- Let kids choose what they want to read, and don’t turn your nose up at popular fiction. A bad attitude toward certain books will only discourage the reading habit.
- Buy books on tape, especially for a child with a learning disability. Listen to tapes in the car, or turn off the TV and have the family listen to them together.
- Subscribe, in your child’s name, to magazines like Sports Illustrated for Kids, Highlights for Children, or National Geographic Kids. Encourage older children to read the newspaper and current events magazines, in order to keep up the reading habit over the summer and develop vocabulary. Ask them what they think about what they’ve read, and listen to what they say.
- Ease disappointment over summer separation from a favorite school friend by encouraging them to become pen pals. Present both children with postcards or envelopes that are already addressed and stamped. If both children have access to the Internet, e-mail is another option.
- Make trips a way to encourage reading by reading aloud traffic signs, billboards, and notices. Show your children how to read a map, and once you are on the road, let them take turns being the navigator.
- Encourage children to keep a summer scrapbook. Tape in souvenirs of your family’s summer activities, postcards, ticket stubs, photos, etc. Have your children write the captions and read them aloud as you look at the book together
Other suggestions for encouraging summer reading include:
- Setting aside a family bookshelf for library books.
- Starting a mother/daughter or family book club.
- Making a “story pack” out of an old backpack. Fill it with books for children or books to read aloud. Take the story pack wherever you go to provide entertainment when children are tired or bored.
- Writing a play together.
- Composing and singing songs together.
- Sharing parents’ childhood favorite books with children.
- Creating an author list to take to the library, so that children don’t just check out the books on the display shelves.
- Reading things around the house other than books.
- Keeping a reading journal.
- Creating a reading festival by reading aloud several books by one particular author.
- Using recipes to cook family favorites and treats.
- Reading maps while driving together or on vacation.
- Encouraging children to read the book on which their favorite movies are based.
- Consulting books to enhance children’s favorite activities and interests. For example, using Disney’s FamilyFun Crafts: 500 Creative Activities For You and Your Kids by Deanna F. Cook or Great Big Book of Children’s Games by Debra Wise to introduce things children like to do.
To put this all together, experts feel that reading shouldn’t be imposed on children. Rather than trying to sneak reading into children’s activities, it’s best to broach the subject directly. Lynne Vallone of Texas A&M University advises parents to “Ask [children] what goals they have for reading this summer. The parent and child can together set goals, and then the parent can reward the child for reaching those goals.”
Vallone believes the best rewards are ones connected to the reading project. She suggests setting aside a small budget for children to buy books. Having books in the home shows children they are valued.
Another suggestion is for parents and children to participate in activities that complement reading. If there is access to a computer, children can write and submit online book reviews to places such as RIF’s Reading Planet, Scholastic, Book Reviews by Kids.
Perhaps the most crucial part of reading with children over the summer is locating books that will appeal to children and motivate them to want to read. While this task may seem daunting, there are numerous organizations and experts who have done an excellent job of nominating books for summer reading. In fact, the Internet abounds with such lists. To illustrate, running a search on Google of recommended summer reading children unearthed 282,000 entries! Click here for a sampling of sources for recommended reading.
In addition to recommended reading lists, another avenue for selecting titles is to look to the children’s book award winners for guidance. Click here for a list of websites that provide an overview of award-winning children’s books.
In addition to locating books of interest, the second and equally important factor is to find books that are appropriate to the child’s reading level. Most booklists and publishers provide age appropriate information on reading levels. Being unique individuals, though, it’s likely that many children’s reading levels will be above or below this estimated gauge. Parents ought to consult with their child’s teacher before summer begins to gain insight into appropriate reading levels. In addition, parents can make use of a simple five finger exercise to determine if a book is at an appropriate reading level. Ask a child to read aloud a page from a book. Every time he stumbles or skips a word, have him put down a finger. If all of a child’s fingers are down by the end of the page, this book is probably too difficult. If the child wants to read it, though, turn this into a shared reading experience. Challenges are one of the great joys of summertime reading, since there’s no grading attached. Motivation is the key.
Visit RIF.org for more tips and information on helping children discover the joy of reading.