Ah, the sun-kissed days of summer! It’s a nice time for kids to bask in the freedom from school routines and homework and appreciate a more laid-back life for a couple of months.
At least at my house, it involves fielding many requests for video games and TV.
Most of us would like our kids to take a break from the lures of screens to enjoy a good book and keep their minds active. But it’s not an easy task! We want our kids to WANT to read and don’t want to treat reading as a chore akin to cleaning a bedroom or loading the dishwasher. It isn’t easy.
We by no means have it “down” around my house, but we’ve made reading a priority this summer and are working through what tends to work (or fail!) when it comes to encouraging our kids (elementary and middle school-aged) to read.
Start with the Library
Your local library is a treasure trove of books, activities, and programs designed to engage young readers during summer. Most libraries offer exciting summer reading programs that provide incentives, challenges, and rewards to motivate children. Encourage your kids to participate, allowing them to discover new books and interact with fellow book enthusiasts in their community. A trip to the library also doubles as an inexpensive outing to break up a long summer day.
Allow Them to Choose
Sometimes they pick the stupidest-looking crap books, but it’s okay. If they get to grab that book off a library shelf that they themselves, it’s going to be 10X more appealing than whatever I hand them. Our kids often choose texts with potty humor (Captain Underpants, Dog Man, etc.) and various low-quality non-fiction books about which animal would win in a duel. If it gets them interested, it’s worth it to me.
We are audiobook junkies, every last one of us. Audiobooks offer a fantastic way to engage reluctant readers, add reading to a busy day, and get kids excited about stories. I find that it’s easier for kids to be captivated by a story when there’s professional voice acting and production involved.
Times and places we listen to books:
- Road Trips! We’re frequent road-trippers and almost always have a book we’re listening to as a family. We turn screens off, hand out snacks, and are generally surprised at the lack of complaining when there’s a good story over the speakers. Favorites include the Harry Potter series, The Chronicles of Narnia, Ramona Quimby, The Hunger Games (for older kids), The Beast and the Bethany, The Ichabog. We’re visiting Prince Edward Island this summer, and I 100% have Anne of Green Gables earmarked for the trip north. Audiobooks are also fun for everyday around-town errands. You don’t have to save them for long drives.
- During Chores. Laundry, dishes, gardening, and cleaning are so much more fun when there’s an engaging story in your earbuds! This is true for me.
- Bedtime. All three of our kids fall asleep to audio stories every night. Usually, it’s a book they’ve read numerous times before, and the familiarity acts like a natural sedative.
- Quiet Time. When our kids were younger, I would enforce an afternoon quiet time in their rooms for my own sanity. This was a perfect time for them to put on a book and play quietly, keeping them from sneaking out.
There are several options for accessing audiobooks. Your library will likely have a variety of books-on-CD, and possibly small MP3 players called “Playaways,” where you can plug in headphones, push a button, and listen.
We also use a variety of apps on our tablets and smartphones, including Audible and Libro FM (paid) and Libby and Hoopla (free, via the library.)
But isn’t that cheating? Many parents wonder. By and large, no. Numerous studies tell us that all kinds of great things happen in our brains when we listen to books and that it isn’t all that different from what happens when reading text. However, at our house, our younger kids still need the practice to decode words on a page. For this reason, our kids’ reading goals are physical book-related and don’t count audiobooks. But you can structure reading goals in whatever works best for your family.
Set Reading Goals and Track Progress
Goal setting is another way to inspire children to read more during the summer. You can sit down with your child and discuss achievable reading goals, such as completing several books or exploring different genres. Encourage them to track their progress, rate books, and pay attention to what they read. Our reading logs are taped to the wall in the dining room so the kids can have easy access.
Our kids will get a special present at our house if they attain their set reading goal by the end of the summer. One child would like her hair dyed professionally (bright orange, no less), while another would like ears pierced. We’re more than happy to make those deals around here.
Delay/Limit Screen Time
I have found that my kids will never touch a book if they can play on a screen, watch TV, or veg out on YouTube. So while I don’t love being the “bad guy” on screens, limiting their use will naturally open the doors for more interest in a book or story.
We’ve tried different rules and guidelines from year to year, but for now, we have a “no screens until 2:30 p.m.” rule for our house this summer. We swim each morning, then come home for some low-key reading time before screens are even an option. And if they don’t read, they don’t get to use a screen at all. It’s very motivating to the reluctant readers at my house!
Consider Reading Aloud (Even to Big Kids)
Reading aloud to your kids is an incredibly valuable experience and doesn’t have to stop once your kids can read for themselves. It’s a great opportunity to delve into a good story beyond your child’s reading level. There are usually a few years for kids where the books they can read themselves aren’t very interesting, but their minds appreciate a much more complex, in-depth story. Reading aloud is perfect for filling that gap.
And while I might get eye-rolls from my middle schoolers when I mention that it’s “read-aloud time,” they’re generally on board when I sweeten the pot with good snacks and treats. I also find that allowing them to engage in a quiet activity (jigsaw puzzle, Legos, coloring, Rubik’s cube, painting, etc.) with their hands helps keep them from interrupting, fidgeting, or fighting as much as they otherwise would.
Organize a Kid Book Club
Choose a book, invite a few friends, and provide some food. Print out a few discussion questions (Google is your friend for this), and voila! Just like an adult book club sans wine.
Summer can be a magical season for children to embark on incredible literary journeys. You can help your child forge a lifelong bond with books or, at the very least, prevent a bit of the “summer slide.” Some days will be more miss than hit, but overall you won’t regret the moments your family spends (either together or apart) in the middle of a good story. Give yourself and your family grace when things don’t work, and celebrate the wins when they come along. Happy reading!