Teachers all over America lament the fact that kids lose lots of learning over the summer months. Why not give your kids a jump-start on school this fall by creating summer reading adventures and warm family moments for all of you to enjoy?
The trick with summertime reading, is to make sure it is FUN!
1. If you don’t already have one, get a book shelf, book basket or create a book corner somewhere in your house. Studies of lifelong readers note that books always had a special place in their home as they were growing-up. Our kids catch on fast, if you have the good dishes or other prized possessions in a special place, and multiple TVs, laptops, and iPads around – kids start thinking they are important to you. Why not help them create the same perception about books!
While my two sons were growing up, we had bookshelves and book baskets in our house. When they were in high school I kept a bookshelf at the end of the hall by their bedrooms – it was in constant sight and provided easy access without my direct involvement. I kept it stocked with gently used paperbacks of the books from their annual school reading lists. When summer storms and boredom rolled in, they and their friends often slipped titles from those shelves. I learned to buy multiple copies of the same title, so their friends could grab a book, as well. (Reading is a tad more acceptable when your buddies are doing it, too.) Find a way to keep books front and center in your kids’ lives, and remember to adapt access to their age and stage.
2. Let your kids see you reading. Do you know the reading level of the Dad sets the overall interest level kids have in books? Read the newspaper or online sources, and then – this is key – talk about what you’ve read at dinner time or when you are in the car with your kids.
Start at least one conversation a day with “You know what I read today?”, “Guess what Aunt Debbie wrote on Facebook today.”, or “Guess what I learned on the Internet today.” Kids love to imitate their parents; before you know it yours will be sharing stories of their own. Subtle changes, may lead to big rewards.
3. Read in new and different places. Summer offers all sorts of exciting reading venues and opportunities – in a tent, in the yard, on the grass, or in a tree, in the pool or in a tube, by the river, in a boat, on a mountain, or on a goat, at sunrise or sunset, in Grandma’s lap or on a jet, in the rain or under the stars, and of course, as always, in a car. Ask your kids to come-up with new and unusual places to read a book, and then do it together. (Sorry about the rhyme, I couldn’t resist.)
4. Take books on vacation. Make a big deal about packing the books, by giving each child a special book bag or backpack. Let them select the books they want to bring, and then make sure to pack a few surprises in case they run through theirs quickly. (If possible, match them to what you will be doing or bring along imagination builders like mysteries or fantasies. )
Bring magazines or comic books along, matching titles to your kids interests. Magazines or comic books are a great way to segue way non or reluctant-readers into books. If they’ll be watching movies on the road, try to get books of the same title or related to the film’s theme.
Let your kids navigate and/or read brochures or online articles about where you will be going, and incorporate at least one of their choices. One of the best road trips I ever took, was with my then 8 and 9 year-old sons – their Dad had just started a new job and could not make it to his family’s reunion. My older son road shotgun and navigated the entire trip using a map and Trip Tik. (Pre-GPS and MapQuest, Trip-Tiks were the way to go!) His younger brother kept use entertained by reading jokes all the way from Fort Myers, Florida to Norfolk, Virginia.
5. Read-aloud lots to your kids this summer! The biggest reading mistake parents make is to stop reading to their kids when their kids start reading! Children need reading practice, so letting them read to you is essential, but when you stop reading to them, you reduce their opportunity for vocabulary growth and content understanding. You see, by keeping the words and stories you read to them on a higher level than what they can read, you are exposing them to more and larger words and to more complex plots and themes.
While they are reading beginner-readers books to you, you can be reading more advanced picture books and simple chapter books to them. When they conquer those, you can read longer, more complex chapter books to them. My husband read “The Chronicles of Narnia” to our boys when they were 7 and 8, and they loved it. Not long after, he shared “The Hobbit” and the “Lord of the Rings Tribolog.”with them.
Don’t underestimate the listening level of your children. If they do seem bored or distracted, move on to something else – remember this is all about having fun.
6. The long hot days of summer are the perfect for introducing your kids to series books, either by reading them aloud, or by allowing them to enjoy on their own. It’s also a great time to share your childhood favorites with them. What were you reading when you were their ages?
If they don’t find your childhood choices as interesting as you did, you can spend time telling them stories about your summer vacations – you know, from way back when. Most of us still remember a tale or two our parents or older relatives shared with us. Take time to make an impression on them, tell your tale with lots of details and memory-making gusto. Someday, they may repeat it to their kids, and for now, it helps their attention spans, and ability to follow plot lines and the twists and turns they present.
7. Keep it light! The goal is to have fun with it. These ideas are designed to work when the mood and intensity are low-key. If one idea or another doesn’t succeed, try, try again, but do so in an easy off-hand way. Don’t feel both parents have to be involved, but if they both jump on the summer reading band wagon, all the better.
We as parents have a tendency to overdo things. We are all guilty, at one time or another, of over booking ourselves and our kids. Don’t let this summer be yet another over-scheduled season. Your kids want to spend time with you more than just about anything else you have planned, I guarantee it. Your attention is much more important than what you are doing. (Of course, if they are heading into middle or high school, you have to fine-tune your parenting radar to know exactly when and where they want you to invade their space!)
Years ago, when my sister and her family were returning home after their first summer vacation in Florida, my sister asked her two children what they enjoyed most. They responded that the time we all spent together watching dolphins in the Gulf and feeling sand dollars in the water with our toes were tops with them – which meant that the five very expensive days at a major theme park, came in at least third. That’s not to say that activity wasn’t fun, too, it was, but it didn’t match the fun of an un-orchestrated laid back moment.
Take some time this summer to make reading a rewarding, memory-making experience for your kids. I will never forget the joy and sense of adventure and possibility I felt as I read one of my many Nancy Drew mysteries while lying in my Dad’s old army hammock hung between two sky-high, straight-trunked hickory nut trees in our backyard.