• Stacy Nockowitz

Three Ways to Keep Kids Reading This Summer

Maybe it’s the librarian in me. Or the language arts teacher. Or the reader or writer or mother.

As I write this, I am sitting on my lovely back porch with my lovely cat, Esther, watching a man toss softballs to his young son for batting practice in their backyard. And my first thought is not: How nice that that father is helping his son improve his baseball skills. No, my first thought is: Is that kid going to pick up a book this summer?

Obviously, outdoor activities reign supreme during the summer months. And luckily, this year, kids are going back to camp and back to summer sports leagues after spending last summer shut in their homes during quarantine. But does summer soccer or theater camp mean that reading should be shelved for the next ten weeks?

Like I said, maybe it’s the librarian in me, but I certainly hope not.

So, how can parents and caregivers entice kids to pick up a book during the summer months? Threats of the summer slide have been exacerbated this year by additional threats of the Covid slide. But telling kids that they should read because their literacy skills are going to suffer if they don’t is not much of an incentive. Kids don’t care about keeping up their literacy skills. They care about having fun and not thinking about school for a while.

If you want to keep your kids reading during the summer, you need to be a bit stealthy. You need to integrate reading into their summer routines in such a way that it feels as natural to kids as riding their bikes. Here are three tips to slip reading into their days without making it a chore akin to sweeping up cicada exoskeletons:

1. Take it outside: As much as possible, have kids read outdoors during the summer. That may sound counterintuitive; after all, isn’t everything from bunnies in the bushes to the scent of barbecue chicken distracting for a kid outdoors? Yes, many things seems to pull their attention away from the pages, but forcing a child to stay indoors and read when sunshine is calling is sure to make that child associate reading with a lack of freedom. Better to spread out a blanket on the grass and have that child flit between reading and worm-hunting for an hour than to force an hour of Sit on the couch and read now! on them.

2. Access, access, access: One key to successful summer reading is easy access to reading material. Make a long walk to the public library part of your weekly routine. Make the bookstore the place where you meet up with friends on a regular basis. Keep books at Grandma and Grandpa’s house for pop-up sleepovers. And yes, keep books in the bathroom. It’s the one place where you’ve got a captive audience.

3. Choice reigns supreme: Let kids make their own summer reading choices. Not all reading material needs to be award-winning, cerebral stuff. Magazines, joke books, and Calvin and Hobbes anthologies are perfect summer reading material. Kids don’t have to be reading Dickens to be reading. And yes, they may choose to read the entire Diary of a Wimpy Kid series for the tenth time, but if that’s going to keep them engaged, so be it!

One thing I would strongly argue against is prescribed reading time each day during the summer. Don’t make 2:00 on a summer afternoon into 5th period language arts class. The less the summer looks and feels like the school year, the better.

And finally, don’t push it. Yes, reading during the summer is essential, especially for kids whose skills are below grade level. But if your kid wants to skip a day and go to the pool with a friend, just be chill. They all have to go to the bathroom at some point.

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