Yes, parents, there really is a magic formula to keep your kids reading through the summer and beyond. The secret ingredient? You.
Research shows that reading during the summer helps kids minimize the “summer slide,” the drop-off in reading skills that non-summer readers experience at the start of a new school year.
Troublingly, the recent “Kids and Family Reading Report,” a biennial survey done by Scholastic, a publishing and media company, showed that among kids ages 9-11, 14% read no books during the summer of 2018, compared with 7% in 2016.
Among kids ages 15-17, 32% read no books last summer, compared with 22% in 2016.
But summer reading need not be a hard sell to kids. That same survey found that nearly 60% of kids ages 6-17 agreed with the statement: “I really enjoy reading books over the summer.”
You can help them find that joy. In the midst of the craziness of daily life — and the distractions of screens and so much else — it’s a challenge for parents to make reading a pleasurable priority in their family’s life. But summertime actually is a perfect — and crucial — time to experiment with some of the following strategies, recommended by children’s librarians and reading experts.
Let kids choose
Reading experts say that kids who can choose what to read in their out-of-school time are more likely to enjoy reading and ultimately become lifelong readers.
So, just say yes to whatever books interest your children — even if you’d prefer to see them reading the latest Newbery Medal-winning novel instead of “how to” nonfiction books, graphic novels or formulaic series books.
Unfortunately, more schools now than in the past require kids to read only books at their level (determined by whatever reading program is used by the school system). That can present a major roadblock to kids’ reading enjoyment because the books often don’t interest them. So it’s up to parents to give their children permission to choose books they really want to read in their own time.
Expand the definition of reading
Allow kids to pick their reading format. Audiobooks and e-readers can be gateways to reading for some kids. For example, audiobooks allow kids to listen to books that might otherwise be too hard for them; they’re also perfect for fidgety kids, who can do other activities, like drawing, while listening. E-readers, meanwhile, work well for young readers with learning disabilities who may need adjustable print size and text-to-speech features, as well as for kids who just love adding some tech to their reading.
Graphic novels are another popular format that shouldn’t make parents fret. Drawings can make books more accessible, but that doesn’t also mean that they dumb them down. In fact, some reading experts argue that graphic novels actually offer a real brain workout, as readers must simultaneously interpret words and pictures.
Graphic novels also are winning literary kudos. Just look at Newbery Honor winners “El Deafo” by Cece Bell and Victoria Jamieson’s “Roller Girl,” National Book Award finalist “Hey, Kiddo,” by Jarrett J. Krosoczka, or “New Kid,” a critically acclaimed 2019 graphic novel by Jerry Craft.
a family priority
Here’s where adult involvement plays an especially important role. Most parents already know about the value of setting screen-time limits. Yes, pushing back against digital distractions can be tough, so that’s why it’s important for kids to see the grown-ups in their lives reading for pleasure.
Finding even 10 minutes to just sit and read something other than email or social media can feel impossible to busy parents, but modeling reading for pleasure is a critical way to convince a child that reading is fun.
Why not make it an activity for the whole family just to hang out and read? Add “reading time” to that busy list of weekend activities — 30 minutes or so when everyone relaxes and quietly reads. It’s just as important, and easy to schedule, as soccer practice.
Make reading social
Forget about the quiet and plan some read-aloud time. This could mean actively reading a book to — or with — a child or listening to an audiobook during car trips (even to the supermarket). This way, kids and adults can share and discuss the same book.
Other ways to make books social: Book clubs in which parents and kids both participate and family-reading meals where everyone either listens to an audiobook or reads their own book. Also, a trip to the movie theater. Make a book the gateway to seeing the film version of it.
“Charlotte’s Web,” “Matilda,” “Wonder,” “A Wrinkle in Time” — there are so many wonderful books that have been adapted for the big screen. Reading the book first is great preparation for the theater experience — and creates a great conversation starter for the ride home from the theater.