I love summer reading. I love it so so much. Am I alone here? We all know it is good and necessary to keep kids sharp over the summer, but it can also feel like a chore for parents to implement. As my kids have gotten older, I have developed a (work-in-progress) list of tips to make cultivating reading in the home more manageable.
Often we simply reward the socks off of our kids for their reading, hoping they will get excited about it. That’s not always a bad idea! Some kids do great with this – but it can sometimes backfire, causing kids to view reading as a punishment they have to endure for the sake of the reward (screen time, pizza party, 6 flags tickets, etc.) So here are my top 10 ways to take the sting out of Summer Reading:
- Series books are the best for getting kids to carry their excitement for one story straight into another. My kids love The Boxcar Children, Nancy Drew series, Hardy Boys series, and the Winnie the Pooh series. There are so many more – if there is one you love leave a comment below and let me know to put it on our list!
- An author with many beloved stories keeps your child connected to the literature they are consuming. Wilson Rawls wrote Where the Red Fern Grows, and so my kids were so excited to listen as my husband and I read Summer of the Monkeys out loud to them. The books contained geographical and time period overlap, which also intrigued my crew. E.B. White, Robert Louis Stevenson, and Ralph Moody also have many intriguing stories to keep children’s minds captivated.
- Read out loud before bed – or not. Most days, I am DONE with all the parenting by bedtime. I am limping to the finish line every day in summer as we are trying to pack all sorts of fun and play into each day. When I have packed lunches, and gone to the pool and given showers and gone for a bike ride, I just don’t have much left before bed. This is often a time that I outsource – asking my hubby to read a chapter out loud, asking my oldest to read a chapter out loud, or recruiting an audiobook app to read out loud. But I still want to make sure reading out loud is part of my routine as well, and my favorite solution is reading a chapter during breakfast while the kids eat. They sit quietly while I read (for the most part) so the solution is a double whammy in that I get to check my read aloud box for the day while I administer some order to a mealtime by entertaining them.
- Mix it up by reading a chapter out loud to your kids who are already readers. I love to read the first chapter of a book out loud to help engage the kids with a story. I recently began The Three Musketeers for my 8 year old, reading the first chapter aloud and thus helping him pronounce some new French words that set the time and place, and then handed the book off to him to keep reading. He couldn’t put it down. When a child seems tired in a story, prevent weariness by taking the opportunity to read a chapter to them.
- Make use of all the technology. I don’t have the same energy to create different voices and characters that the paid narrators on audible use when reading aloud. While it is important for my kids to hear me reading to them as well, I am happy to allow them freedom to listen to great narrators via Audible, LibriVox, Audio Books, and public library apps to listen to all sorts of stories. I highly recommend previewing a narrator and when you find one you like, seeing what else they have narrated. My kids and are all captivated by the Chronicles of Narnia series at the moment – many audiobooks have one narrator doing many voices, but the Focus on the Family version has a host of actors each playing a different role. They have added sound affects and theatrical pauses. It is scary at times, in a good way.
- Let them read content that you wouldn’t yet let them watch. I maintain some pretty strict guidelines on what I let my kiddos watch, but I allow some scarier books, or more (young) adult content to allow books to open up some tougher conversations. We are currently reading Hatchet by Gary Paulsen together, which is intended for an older child. But as I read it aloud, I can stop and ask them questions, and use this great story to introduce some tough topics. (My kids are 8,6, and 4 and I also am fine with the fact that a lot still goes over the heads of all three of them.) This book deals with divorce which they haven’t experienced within our family, and we have been talking through that as we read. It also brings up some infidelity innuendo, which I have edited at times, or at times read aloud knowing they are not catching.) The book can get a little scary for my 6 yo, and so I have been reading in the morning instead of right before bed, because they want to hear what happens but don’t want to be left hanging right before bedtime.
- Use content websites to determine a book’s level. Is it a little above their level (great for reading aloud, as above), at their level (great for reading on their own), below their level (great for olders to read aloud to younger siblings)…or just plain inappropriate for their age. I tend to look up a book on www.commonsensemedia.org and also on www.pluggedin.com. I don’t always agree with their conclusion, but knowing the content beforehand helps me make an educated choice.
- Get recs from homeschool moms. Many homeschooling parents have great experience with lots of books since they are both parent and teacher. Most of us don’t email our teachers over the summer, but you can email a mama you know who teaches her kids at home to ask what her kids have loved or been bored by.
- DON’T refuse to give up. You don’t have to force a struggle through every boring book your kids pick up. Sometimes it’s just not a fit, and sometimes it may eventually be a fit but isn’t yet. If your kid struggles with perseverance, then he/she may need to be challenged to press on. But if your child is an eager reader and suddenly is hating what they are reading, and if you try reading a chapter or two out loud to get them going with no result…let it go. Return it to the library, or put it back on the shelf and try again later. Books aren’t always a fit, and that’s ok.
- Reward reading with books. Half Price Books offers a special book log where kids can read, and track, and earn a gift card for more books. I love to let my kids earn a new audiobook of their choosing for completing a tough task: anything from reading a tough book on their own to doing some extra chores. I resist rewarding reading with screen time as I want to prevent my kids from the idea that reading is a chore. Reading is a joy! We are so lucky to be alive in a time when there is so much access to great stories so easily.
This list is by no means exhaustive, so if you have other thoughts or tips, please comment below and share the wealth! I know I will continue adding to it as my kids grow. Wishing you all some joyful reading this Summer!