“Kids! Let’s get to the library today and turn in your summer reading list!” I yelled through the house last August.
“Oh, okay, great! I’m ready,” answered one of my four kids, running into the kitchen with her completed form. No response from the other three.
I gathered them and tried to entice them with the opportunity to get a free book and, honestly, tried to guilt them a bit too. The response was zero enthusiasm. “Fine,” I said. “I guess just Cece is going to get a book this year.” In my head I was thinking, How can I be raising these unmotivated reading losers? of the other three. Cece and I hopped in the car and got her free book.
It’s a tradition in my family to sign up for the summer reading program through our local library. Kids from 0 to 18 are invited to record the books they read throughout the summer and return the list for a reward of some coupons, stickers, pencils, and a free book from one of their featured bins. As a teacher, I always thought that having my kids participate in this made me a good teacher mom and seemed to fulfill some parenting duty.
Summer is again around the corner, and I realize that ploys like these summer reading programs really don’t work for all kids (and particularly not for mine). As a parent I always have the best intentions of filling our summer days with lots of fun and lots of relaxing but to also use our time together to continue reading and writing regularly. And it always lasts about a week. Before I know it, my big plans for academic activities have all but disappeared and I’m just trying to keep the kitchen clean. But that doesn’t mean we’re not reading. In fact, we read a lot in the summer. It just isn’t captured on a reading program log sheet.
Building Enthusiasm Naturally for Summer Reading with Students
The research is clear about the importance of summer reading and the “slide” that reading skills can take for some students. But knowing firsthand how hard it is to keep up with summer reading plans, I have a hard time preaching to parents. For the past few years, I’ve tried to encourage students to take the lead on summer reading and for parents to recognize that summer reading comes in many forms.
In the classroom, I spend time reflecting on all the learning that we’ve done throughout the year. I share the importance of continuing to read throughout the summer months, and we brainstorm ideas that will keep us engaged. I try to help them think about what we have enjoyed in class and how these activities can be extended outside of school, such as having access to books, finding a cozy place to read, reading with a buddy, making a reading plan, and having a take-home reading bag with frequently changed-out books. We brainstorm and chart together.
After creating our chart, I revisit the term commitment that we talked about earlier in the year. I ask them to review the chart and think about what they want to, and can, commit to. We share our ideas with partners and with the group. We talk about what we will need to be in place to follow through and keep our commitment. To formalize this commitment, and to share with parents, I give students a picture of the chart to glue on their paper; underneath it they write their summer reading/writing commitment.
I commit to going to the library every Friday and reading some books there too. —Taylor
I commit to doing a reading club with my friends in the neighborhood. —Taylor
I commit to a reading schedule because I want to read every day. —Kian
I commit to do an author study on Dav Pilkey and Oliver Jeffers. —Jay
I commit to going to the library and getting lots of books to read. —Liliana
I send this paper home and hope that it gets put on the fridge where it can be revisited throughout the summer. I also send home a description of ideas for summer reading that might look different from the traditional “reading for 30 minutes every day.”
I don’t specifically follow up on student commitments. I know how summer goes, and even the best-laid plans can fall by the wayside. But I do hope that since students have an active part in deciding their summer commitments, they have a better chance of following through on them. And unless they ask, I’m going to pass on signing up my own kids for the summer reading program. Even though we won’t have a log or a new free book at the end of the summer, I’m confident that we will engage in lots of the reading and writing that we’ve loved in summers past.
More Tips for Success with Summer Reading
Here are some ideas that my students and I came up with when we talked about summer reading. I’ve also included some additional ideas that work for my family.
Make a daily summer schedule. Because we let our kids stay up later in the summer, reading before bed isn’t always ideal. I have found that if I make a schedule, it keeps reading somewhere in our day. This schedule often has to be revised throughout the summer, especially after returning from a vacation. If you find that days have gone by without reading with your child, don’t sweat it. Just make a quick schedule and start it again!
Conduct your own author studies. Go to the library website wccls.org and reserve all the books you can find from the same author. When they come in, check out the big stack of books. Read them together with your children. Talk about which books you like best, what you notice about the author’s style, and so on. Or just read them and reread favorites! You can do this same thing with a particular series or with books around a common theme (i.e., math topics, science topics, and so on).
Family novel read-aloud. I usually pick a novel that I can read aloud to my four kids at the same time. Sometimes I read the novel at bedtime while we all gather on someone’s bed, but more often I read it aloud in the afternoon when they all seem to be needing a distraction from each other. I let them bring cozy things and/or coloring to someone’s bed or the living room, and they settle in for some listening time. Some favorite family read-alouds are Summer of the Monkeys, Where the Red Fern Grows, Little House on the Prairie, Charlotte’s Web, My Father’s Dragon series, and the Ramona series.
Make a plan to visit the library regularly, and put it on the calendar. When there, check out the “new book” section in the picture books to see new stuff.
Visit bookstores. You don’t have to buy something every time, and many bookstores have read-aloud time and/or cozy places to read. And if you are on vacation, check out bookstores at your destination—it’s a great way to spend an hour of quiet.
Try audiobooks. Listen to them everywhere! For example, play them at bedtime as your children are falling asleep, in the car, on the back porch, and so on. Reading along with the books is great, but we find that just listening works better for us—and then kids get the chance to visualize on their own. There are lots of great chapter books available at libraries and bookstores (these aren’t always cheap, but you can trade with friends!).
Memorize poems. Shel Silverstein poems, from Where the Sidewalk Ends in particular, are still fun to read and memorize. I have a few that I can recite from when I memorized them in grade school! There are many other poets and poetry anthologies that would also be fun.
Book-a-Day Challenge. This was started by some of my favorite teacher bloggers. The goal is simple (try to read a book every day of summer), and the format is relaxed. Read a book every day and record the title somewhere. If you are reading a novel, record it on the day that you finish it. In the meantime read a picture book every day. If you miss a day, catch up and read two the next day. If you are going on vacation for five days, read five books before you go, then start again when you return. It’s a fun challenge, and fun to look back at the list of books that you’ve read at the end of the summer!
I hope these tips help. Happy reading!