School aged children are encouraged (and sometimes required) to complete summer reading. Many bookstores, schools, restaurants, and even sports teams have developed incentive programs to keep kids reading during the summer. For kids who love to read, these programs are often just icing on the cake – a goal to be achieved. The reading would happen regardless of the reward. The reading is the reward. For kids who aren’t naturally drawn towards reading, summer reading can feel like a chore. Parents of these kids often find themselves feeling guilty for “not pushing” the reading or exhausted from “pushing” (read: nagging, cajoling, checking in on, enforcing) the reading.
Identify Obstacles to Reading
First, try to figure out which part(s) of the reading process are not rewarding for your child. Does your child struggle with foundations in literacy? Does your child have difficulty picturing the story or using their imagination to engage with the story? Is your child a “mover,” who doesn’t enjoy sitting for stretches of time? If your child has been identified in school as struggling with areas of reading, make sure you have a plan for helping them build their skills over the summer. This could include working with a tutor or focusing on specific skills. If you’re not sure if your child has deficits in some of the foundations of reading, you might consider having them evaluated over the summer in order to put the proper supports in place for them to build skills.
Figure Out What Is Rewarding
Next, it’s time to think about what motivates your child. Of course, as mentioned above, there are many incentive programs to take advantage of. Lots of parents set up their summer schedule so that their kids read before they’re able to do the “fun stuff” of the day. In those situations, the reward is finishing the task in order to get to preferred activities. However, it also tends to reinforce the idea that reading is a chore. Instead, try to be creative. If your child is a sucker for alone time with you, read together (even if he or she is capable of reading independently) or snuggle up and read your own books. If your child is a “mover,” pack up your reading and hop on your bikes to find a good reading spot in a nearby park. If your child is a more visual learner, suggest that they sketch scenes from the book (either with you reading aloud or your child reading). These approaches center around making reading rewarding by associating the act of reading with components that are more naturally rewarding for your child.
Unless your child is specifically working on building their literacy skills, consider widening your perspective on summer reading. Some children love a good story, they just don’t necessarily love the act of reading. Consider audiobooks. If a child learns to become engaged with stories by listening, they may eventually become more open to reading. Likewise, if your child burns through graphic novels or books below their lexile level, that’s ok. If your child has trouble maintaining attention to longer novels, help them find short stories or non-fiction that may be easier to digest in small chunks. Find interesting books at the library or bookstore and place them in spots that encourage perusing, like your coffee table, the backseat of your car, or even your breakfast table. It’s especially helpful if you find books that suit your child’s personality and interests. In our office, a popular choice for many kids is “Which Is Worse?” In this book, you’re faced with having to make a decision between two gross options. In addition to introducing your child to words they may not typically come across in novels, these types of books open up lots of opportunities for discussion! Your child is engaging with written (and graphic) material and that’s rewarding. “Not counting” that type of reading isn’t really fair.
Make Reading a Part of Your Family Life
Just having more books in your home is good for kids. Over the years, studies have shown that the number of books in a child’s home correlates to years of education. Take it a little bit further by talking about what you’re reading. Have conversations (not interrogations) about what your kids are reading. Show an interest in the stories your child likes and dislikes, not just how many minutes they read for the day. Encourage family members to use books for downtime, not devices. If you’re at the pool and having a rest period, take turns reading from a joke book. If you’re cooking something, ask your sous chef to read the recipe instructions to you.
By shifting from a narrow focus on accumulating daily reading minutes within your child’s lexile level to making reading enjoyable, natural, and inherently rewarding, your child just may learn to love (or like a little bit more) reading.