When I was in school, I looked forward to receiving the summer reading list on the last day of school. (Yes, I was that kind of dork.) We were given a list of twenty or so books and we were supposed to choose five to read and be prepared to discuss them by fall. I was always excited to see what the choices were and I usually ended up reading most of the list, not just the required five.
(Of course, even if my school hadn’t mandated summer reading, my parents would have done so. Not that they would have had to force me to read… My biggest choices when packing for summer camp were not which outfits to take, but which books to pack. Well, that and which tapes would supply my Walkman for the summer. I was such an 80’s kid!)
At any rate, both the school and my parents knew how important reading was all year round, but especially in the summer when it’s all to easy to lose the skills mastered during the school year. The trouble is, not all kids are as, uh, excited by the prospect of summer reading as I was. So how can you encourage summer reading in kids? (Note that many of these tips work for adults, as well. You might not be in as much danger of losing your reading skills, but summer is a great time to catch up on your reading and experiment with new genres or subjects.)
- Don’t get hung up on books. Obviously, if books are required for school then they have to be read, but don’t insist that everything read over the summer be in book form. Comics, graphic novels, blogs, articles on websites, or magazines are all valid choices and can be a nice break from longer books. Even things like D&D manuals or strategy guides for video games encourage reading so if your child’s interests take them into unconventional reading territory, embrace it rather than discouraging it.
- Check out the offerings of bookstores and libraries (and other stores). Many offer free summer reading programs that include games, contests, author events, story hours, and book clubs. It can be more fun for kids to participate with other kids rather than going it alone. At the very least, feeling like they’re part of something bigger can encourage kids to participate. There are also restaurants and other local businesses that may offer summer reading incentives (like free pizza or movie admission), so keep your eyes peeled.
- Don’t criticize their choices. It’s summer and it’s vacation time. Not everything they read has to be deep or educational. If they (or you) want to read fluff, who cares? Just have fun reading. Making everything into an educational experience will drive kids away from reading and teach them that it’s a drag.
- Offer a reward. Set a summer reading goal and award a prize if the goal is met. For example, if your child reads eight books over the summer, maybe they get a day at the local water park. It’s up to you to decide what “counts” toward the prize and how to fairly judge that the requirements for winning are met, but be clear at the beginning so there are no hard feelings at the end of the summer.
- Show kids that reading is important to you. Kids emulate the adults in their lives so if they see you making reading a priority, they are more likely to read, as well. Don’t spend your whole summer camped out in front of the TV. Make frequent trips to the library or bookstore and read in front of and with your kids. You can read by the pool or at the park, or everyone can go outside and read on the porch swing.
- Take audio books on road trips. If you’re heading out on vacation, take along some audio books. These don’t practice quite the same skills as physical reading, but kids still get the benefit of following a story and constructing meaning. Be sure to discuss the books as you go along. It doesn’t have to be a formal Q&A or a test, just a simple, “Hey, did you think that character did the right thing in the end?” will do.
- Encourage a series. The fastest way to get a kid hooked on reading is to find a series that they just can’t get enough of. Fortunately, there are many middle grade and YA series these days, so it shouldn’t be too difficult to find something they’ll enjoy.
- Tie reading into summer activities. If you’re going on vacation, get some age-appropriate books about the destination and let the kids learn about where they’re going as well as help in the planning. If your child is suddenly fascinated by catching lightning bugs, go get a bug book. If they show an interest in helping in the garden, get a gardening book. The same holds true for any interest…sports, cooking, art, etc.
- Make it social. If their friends are all reading certain books, encourage your child to read them, too, and then encourage them to get together to talk about it, or throw an event themed around the book. You can also rent/go see the movie, if there is one. This encourages the idea that reading is cool, social, and part of popular culture and not boring and isolating.
- Make the time. It’s so easy to forget reading during the summer. That’s why it’s important to set aside some time specifically for books. It doesn’t have to be hours on end, just an hour before bed, or an hour on rainy/ridiculously hot afternoons will do. Or, you can take advantage of story hour at the library. If your kids are young, reading to them is as worthwhile as having them read to themselves, so set aside some time to read together.
- Keep track if they want to, don’t if they don’t. A lot of people get hung up on summer reading journals or tracking charts. This is great for some kids that really enjoy seeing their progress. Others don’t care and the act of updating a journal or chart is just another chore. If, however, they do want to track, you can make it fun, creative, and crafty to encourage their eagerness to update it. (If you have to keep a record for school, then obviously it needs to get done. But if you’re making your own decisions, leave it up to the child. The reading is what’s most important, not the tracking.)
- Take it online. If your child would rather die than give up social media for even a second, even that addiction can be worked into summer reading. Have them create a book blog, or update their reading status on Facebook. Let them write and read stories on Wattpad. Encourage them to participate in age-appropriate online book clubs and online summer reading programs, or have them set up online discussion groups with their friends. The usual caveats apply… Keep an eye on online activities and make sure things are appropriate and safe.
There are plenty of ways to keep kids engaged in reading over the summer without making it into a chore or homework. It may require a little creativity and effort on your part, but the rewards are worth it. Who knows? you may find yourself reading more, as well.
(Photo courtesy of Pezibear)