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How do you feel about summer reading challenges?

Can I share something with you?

I hate summer reading, I hated it as a kid, and I hated it as a parent. And, to be honest, I hated it as a literacy teacher.

I had the unfortunate experience of attending and working in a school system that encouraged summer reading by providing a list of approved books. We took a test on the book sometime in the first two weeks of the new school year.

Imagine that as an incentive. Enjoy your summer… Oh, by the way, you have a test in August on one of the approved books on your summer reading list.

As a literacy teacher, I can tell you that 90% of my class either read the Cliff Notes, scanned the first paragraph of every chapter, or didn’t bother to read the book. The 10% who read the book couldn’t recall the minutiae facts on the assessment.

If you want to encourage someone to do something, the quickest way to kill the joy of doing it is to end the activity with a test.

Also, students are not interested in reading books that adults choose for them.

Building a Love of Reading

reading love

I love to read, and I want my students to love to read. Literacy is critical to any success in any field. More importantly, literacy unlocks potential. It dramatically increases someone’s chances of success, contentment, and mental problem-solving capacity.

Summer reading programs have good intentions, but they can make kids see reading as a chore or bother. So, how do you encourage your children to read during the summer?

1) Model Expected Behavior

Do you mean I have to read what they read? Yep, that’s right! You and your child select a book from the list and read it together.

Set a time to read each day (preferably the first or last thing your child does) and read. You can read a paragraph, and your child can read the next. Or you can read aloud together. Whatever works.

Keep it short (no more than 15 minutes at a time unless your child wants to read more) and on a set schedule. Don’t compromise the time.

Reading together has two significant benefits. Your child will remember the reading time you spent together forever. You also learn more about what your child is doing in school.

2) Have an Incentive Tied to the Goal

Let your child choose the books and incentives. For example, “Our goal is to complete the book in thirty days, when finished, you will pay me thirty dollars for my time.” Setting time goals is great because you can break the book into smaller parts each day and keep a running chart of how much you have completed.

Three hundred pages in thirty days is ten pages a day. The average fifth grader can read 20 – 25 pages in thirty minutes. So, in fifteen minutes, they can read ten pages.

3) Offer a Variety of Reading Materials

Have a variety of reading materials (besides books) on hand: coloring books, graphic novels, comic books, or magazines. Reading on the internet doesn’t count, only physical pages count.

Here’s an inside tip. Many school systems assign books that the teachers haven’t read. Sometimes, they allow the booksellers to suggest the books for the program.

The reading levels are not always accurate. In one school I visited, the summer reading for the incoming eighth-grade class was a book typically taught in fourth or fifth grade. Unfortunately, for the fifth grade, their chosen book was a popular novel taught in the seventh grade.

Nearly every grade had books that were too high or low for comprehension or interest level. When I asked how they came up with the list, they said they got it from a major publisher of children’s books. I was troubled to learn that nearly half the books had not been vetted by an experienced literacy teacher.

4) Pair the Book with an Experience

For example, if the book takes place in a national park, take your kid to a national park. Then, work into the conversation about how the park is similar to the park the main character was at. Read a chapter from the book.

I call this experiential literacy. It is a concrete experience of an abstract idea in a book. Think of it as putting yourself in the setting of a book’s main character.

There is another literacy theory called bibliotherapy. Bibliotherapy uses books to help people solve problems or overcome uncomfortable moments. For example, if your child is shy, reading a book about a shy child who has to present in front of a large audience may help them work through their shyness.

5) Have Fun Building Reading Skills

summer book club

Finally, literacy should not be a chore. Here are some fun ideas:

  • Invite your child’s friends to a cookout and summer reading book party.
  • Start a summer break book club where you rotate to different homes. Have various events at each home after the group completes reading a few chapters.
  • Have a summer reading scavenger hunt. Students read a chapter and then have to find items from the chapter hidden in someone’s yard or park.
  • Visit a public library and get your kids their own local library card.

There are hundreds of fun reading activities to do with your child this summer. The goal is to have fun with your summer reading activities. Doing so will build good reading habits that last a lifetime!

For more resources check out our free high-interest reading comprehension lesson plans and videos!