The fourth of July has come and gone, and summer has no longer “just begun”. Hopefully your kids have chosen a reading goal for the summer, and perhaps they have even embraced a way to document the reading that they do (see tips 1 and 2). And, hopefully you have visited or plan to visit the library some time soon (see tip 3). Three more tips that are essential for avoiding the summer slide in reading skills can be best summed up with the acronym S.T.A.R.
Tip #4 – Space & Time. Kids need to be provided with both space and time to read, or it just won’t happen! This becomes especially true during the summer, when kids are often so busy enjoying summer activities that reading and books may not be present in neither mind nor matter. Make sure your kids have appealing spaces to read, such as cozy chairs or hanging tents. Even better, try encouraging your kids to build their own special areas for summer reading — using tables, couches, blankets, sleeping bags, and large cardboard boxes. Kids have more ownership over their space (and are more likely to use it) if they make it themselves! Ask kids (especially emerging readers) to make a sign that shows the name of their special reading spot (meaningful writing!).
Make sure your days have down time for rest, unstructured play, creativity, and reading. If your kids aren’t reading almost daily on their own, then deliberately schedule the time for it. For many kids, reading doesn’t just happen, and if we don’t plan the time, it WON’T happen. One little trick that seems to work great for many kids: buy a booklight for bedtime, and tell your child he/she can stay up “late” to read in bed. I love what Jim Trelease, author of the wonderful Read-Aloud Handbook recommends saying: “We think you’re old enough now to stay up later at night and read like Mom and Dad. So we bought this little lamp if you want to read in bed. If you don’t want to read, that’s ok too. We’ll just turn off the light at the same old time.” Kids feel like they are getting away with something, and parents are getting kids to fit in some extra reading. It’s a win-win!
Tip #5 – Access. In addition to space and time, most kids need easy access to books if we want them to read. Make sure books are accessible in all rooms of the house where kids might want to read. There is actually research that shows that houses that have books in more than just 1 or 2 rooms have kids who are more interested in reading (Morrow, 1983). Book baskets in the bathroom and the car can be particularly effective since you have a fairly captive audience in these places! In our family, we discovered that extra reading occurs by using the centerpiece on the kitchen table for books. We keep in our centerpiece books with short text segments that can quickly be read silently or shared aloud, such as poetry, magazines, short stories, and joke books.
Also, encourage kids to bring books with them when going places. They’ll be more likely to read while on the go if you do the same. When standing in line together somewhere, let your kids see you pulling out a book to read while you wait! One fun and easy activity that encourages kids to take books with them is to make “summer book bags”, which can be used for the car, the library, and just about any excursion. Plain canvas bags can be purchased inexpensively (e.g., Michaels), and kids can use fabric markers to decorate them. If your kids are still looking for a way to document their summer reading, maybe they would be excited to use a side of their book bag to record titles of books read or places where reading occurred during the summer.
Tip #6 – Rituals. Finally, help your kids create a more consistent summer reading life by building ritualized times for reading to occur. Possibilities include after dinner on the porch, early morning snuggle in bed, at bedtime, while eating dessert, or late afternoon rest time. If possible, make it a family reading ritual, not just something for the kids. Everyone hanging out in a room reading, television and computers off — this shows that literacy is a family priority (and at the same time creates a wonderful way to connect). Talk together about what works for your family, and make a plan. If children expect it at a specific time every day, they will come to trust it and even look forward to it and plan for it. Reading will occur with more consistency, and probably with fewer battles!
Even if your kids have summer reading goals, have plans to document their reading, are motivated and good readers…without STAR (space, time, access, and rituals), consistent summer reading will likely not happen. Parents, this is your nudge to think about whether these things are already in place for your family this summer…