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.
Make it 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.
Make it a game
Many children's librarians also recommend adding a "game" aspect to reading. Signing kids up for summer reading programs at the local public library is one easy way to do this. Creating book-related bingo cards or "Jeopardy"-like questions also boosts the entertainment value of books.
Or try out a game called “Spoilers,” created by children’s librarian Kendra Wight, who works at Sno-Isle’s Library on Wheels in Washington state. The idea is simple: An adult and a kid choose a book they both will read. The adult stops reading exactly halfway through the book, while the kid reads to the end. After finishing the book, the kid comes up with an alternate ending, then presents that ending and the real ending to see if the adult can guess which is correct. Wight suggests drawing out the conversation by asking kids to relate the story to something that happened in real life or to come up with a question they’d like to ask the author.
"I think that what makes 'Spoilers' appealing to kids, beyond the obvious opportunity to outwit an adult, is that an adult agrees to read something that is important to them," Wight said. "Too often I think our 'reading for fun programs' lead kids to books we have selected, instead of following them to the books they already love. And when we read together, even in this asynchronous way, we get to know each other better."
Karen MacPherson is the children’s and teen services coordinator for the Takoma Park, Md., library.