Summer is flying by, and the end of July is almost here! Take a minute to assess how your kids are doing with their summer reading based on the 7 tips I have shared thus far:
- Do your kids have goals for their summer reading? Are they working towards reaching them? (Tip #1)
- Are your kids keeping track of their summer reading in some way? (Tip #2)
- Have your kids been to the library at least 1-2 times? (Tip #3)
- Have you made sure your kids have reading STARs — Space, Time, Access to books, and Rituals for reading? (Tips #4-6)
- Are you reading aloud to your kids frequently, ideally daily? (Tip #7)
If you can respond yes to one or several of the above questions, your kids have likely had a productive summer reading life thus far. If all of your answers are no, it’s not too late to help your kids get on track so that they avoid the deleterious (& cumulative over years) “summer slide” in reading skills. Perhaps think of July as a mini break, and try to pick things up for August!
As we enter into August with one more month of summer for most kids, here are six final tips for possible ways to encourage summer reading.
Tip #8 – Take reading outdoors! In the summer, kids are spending a lot of time outside, so it makes sense to bring books to them there! (Remember, put books wherever kids might read…tip #5). Convert a treehouse or outside playhouse into an outdoor reading room, with a basket of books and pillows. Pop-up tents work just as well! Kids are more likely to take a break from their active outside play to rest and read if the space is provided. For even more fun, find a flashlight and try doing the kids’ bedtime reading in your new outside reading space. Also, encourage kids to grab their summer book bag (tip #5) and take books along with them to the pool, beach, nature walks, and picnics at the park!
In our family, we put old outdoor furniture cushions in our swingset playhouse, and we used a plastic crate with lid for our mini outdoor library. We added a dry erase board with markers and magnets, and kids are loving this space (and using it as a swimming break!).
Tip #9 – Try to connect reading to your kids’ summer activities. Help your kids find books that relate to their experiences (e.g., backyard activities such as gardening or nature searches, places traveling to, sports, collecting shells or building sand castles at the beach, camp activities, crafts and cooking). You might even visit the library and search the nonfiction section for “how-to” books that describe step-based activities that interest them, such as books of science experiments, magic tricks, or crafts. They can read the book, then try it for themselves! Or, visit places that reinforce the books or magazines that your kids already read. Talk about how your experience compared to events or information in the book. Along these lines, find books that have been made into movies. Read the book, see the movie, and then discuss differences between the two!
Tip #10 – Make reading social. Start or join a summer book club, or host a reading party. At book gatherings, kids can discuss a book read by everyone or they can share and recommend books they are currently reading. Other elements that are fun for book gatherings are dressing up like book characters, making board games based on favorite books, and inviting kids to come with books to trade and holding a “book swap”. It can also be fun to help your child and his/her buddy to find a book that has been made into a movie. Encourage them to read the book together, then host a slumber party and show the movie. Which did they like better — the book or the movie? What would the author think of the movie version? Shared reading experiences such as these nurture a love of reading and, with good support, can result in rich discussions that help comprehension and deep thinking.
Tip #11 – Take advantage of technology to broaden your child’s summer reading life. Search the internet together and read aloud what you discover. Help your child look for reviews of books, and read them together to decide what to read next. Or, google an author’s name to find a personal web page, which often includes biographical information, videos of author readings, and previews to current writing projects. Also, e-books and story apps can provide a welcomed alternative to traditional books. Interactive story apps, with sound effects and participatory features, can be especially fun and engaging. Literacy expert Trevor Cairney has devoted several great posts in his blog to reviewing some of his favorite story apps — these are worth checking out (click here and search “story apps”)! Finally, some kids might enjoy starting their own reading blog (with their parents’ help), with posts that include book recommendations or book reviews. My 7 1/2 year old started a simple book blog this summer and has enjoyed a sense of pride over authoring her own blog as well as the authenticity that writing for a “real” audience provides. She is also getting a kick out of the few comments that she has received from other kids and has expanded her internet reading to commenting on the posts of her new blogging friends. It has been a fun addition to her summer reading life! Check out her little blog if you have a chance!
Tip #12 – Include reading in your summer vacation plans. Summer travels often mean a break from routines and rituals that occur in the home. However, if you plan for it, home reading rituals (such as the “morning cuddle read” or bedtime reading) might be easy to maintain. Share with your kids the books that you plan to bring for your own vacation reading, and then let them choose and pack their own books. It can be especially fun to bring along books that take place in your travel destination (e.g., Roald Dahl’s books if you are traveling to England, Pippi Longstocking books if you will be in Sweden, picture book Sky Boys: How They Built the Empire State Building if you are visiting New York). While in transit, suggest that some of the time go towards reading, and take advantage of your captive audience and read aloud! If reading in the car is difficult, audio books are fantastic for road trips and plane rides (check out audible.com or tales2go.com)!
Tip #13 – Encourage writing over the summer. Reading and writing go hand-in-hand — developing skills for one will help the other. Examples of fun summer writing include keeping journals of travel experiences, designing dinner or picnic menus, creating a scrapbook of summer activities with written captions, starting a blog (click here for ideas for summer blog posts for kids), writing a letter or e-mail to pen pals, and writing to the author of a book. Many authors will actually write back, which adds to excitement about books. Check out Barebooks.com for some wonderful materials to inspire writing — including blank hardcover books, blank journals, blank comic books, and blank board game materials! There is even a great book called Journey to Gameland that gives step-by-step suggestions for how to turn a favorite book into a board game!
What are your kids’ interests? What do they care enough about to pay close attention to the details and write about them? For my daughter, it was books, and her blog became her primary summer writing project. For my son, it’s science…so he started a science journal where he writes his observations from his science experiments. For all three kids, making a “real book” of last week’s road trip was exciting enough to get them all writing daily!
To conclude my little series on avoiding the “summer slide”: Hopefully these posts have provided inspiration for some parents. Summer reading can not only prevent reading loss, but it can sustain and even improve all of the components of successful reading, from skills related to sounding out words and fluency to vocabulary, world knowledge, comprehension, and critical thinking. Beyond the cognitive benefits, summer is perhaps the best time to nurture your child’s love of reading and help him/her become a lifetime (not just a schooltime) reader. It is a time when kids are free from the often burdensome requirements of school reading (required reading lists, tests, worksheets, and book reports) — when instead kids can read what they want, on their own terms, because it is “real” and valued and pleasurable. In the remaining weeks of summer, remember to let kids choose what they read. (When you read aloud to your kids, then you can have more control over book choice!) It’s OK for a child to read below his/her reading level. It’s OK and often helpful to read (and hear) a book multiple times. And, all genres and text forms are fair game, including comic books, poetry and joke books, and magazines. Give kids the opportunity to be the authors of their own reading lives, to figure out their own reading preferences, and to talk about the books they love.
In a few weeks when summer comes to an end, if someone were to ask your child, “What were your favorite parts about this summer?”…Will your child include “read” or “listen to my mom/dad read” in her list of favorite summer activities? If yes, you have a lifelong reader in the making!