Making Summer Reading Fun for Kids

Summer ReadingOur lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer seem a little heavy on the “crazy” these days: T-ball practice, swim team, gym class, day camp, play dates … the list goes on. When did “summer” become code for “hectic”?
Now that summer is in full bloom, it might just be the perfect time to dial things down, curl up beneath a shady tree and get utterly lost in a mind-nurturing book.

Wish you could do that?

You can. Pick up your New York Times best seller or your favorite classic from English Lit, pack up some great reads for the kids, find a cozy outdoor spot and read away — together.

Mind the gap

That’s one way to support your child’s summertime reading, an activity that educators consider crucial to learning and school achievement. When kids don’t read during the summer months — the experts call that “summer reading setback” — they often fall behind with their reading when they return to school in the fall, says Amy Twito, youth services program manager at the Seattle Public Library.

Studies show that low-income and minority students experience more summer learning and reading loss than their middle-class and white classmates, she says. “Reading is the only activity that is consistently related to summer learning,” Twito says.

“When you’re out of school, it’s good to be around a print and information environment,” says Kate Pappas, children’s services librarian at the Seattle Public Library’s Rainier Beach branch. Libraries, she points out, provide access to a world of books and information that most people don’t have at home. “It’s great for kids to come to the library and sample all the enriching materials that will keep their minds working,” says Pappas.

Let them choose

But reading — especially the summer-vacation kind — should be fun. After all, we want children to enjoy books and view reading as a joy, not a chore.

That’s why kids should be the “deciders” when it comes to reading materials. “You should always let kids choose, especially during the summer,” says Christy McDanold, owner of Secret Garden Books in Ballard. “Reading helps maintain skills, but if you remove the pleasure, that’s not going to happen.”

Summer is not the time to worry about challenging your kids’ reading level, McDanold says. “The books shouldn’t be too hard. Kids like to select what they know.” Choosing books they’re familiar with from school is fine — and so is perusing the same book over and over. “When your child does that, she’s practicing — and she’s reading,” she says.

How can parents help their children find the right reading fit? “If your kids try to read a page and make five or six errors, the book might be too hard,” says McDanold. “If they read with no errors, it might be too easy.”

If they can’t read at all — say you’ve got babies or preschoolers — then read to them. “Even if a child’s attention span is a minute, point out pictures, name things in books and make this a part of their everyday routine,” says Dr. Sonja Maddox, a Renton family medicine practitioner who’s involved in the national Reach Out and Read program. The program promotes early literacy by working with health-care providers to distribute new books to children.

Reading is fundamental

As they say, “You can lead a child to a good book, but you can’t make him read.”

OK, that’s not what they say exactly, but you get the point. Reading Is Fundamental (RIF), a national nonprofit literacy organization, suggests parents can help foster summer reading habits by reading to their kids 30 minutes each day; by helping their kids get library cards; visiting the library with them; keeping children’s books around the house; setting up reading areas at home; and giving children writing materials.

RIF also recommends parents begin a tradition of “summer evening storytelling,” an outdoor activity that involves the family: Each person comes up with a story idea and takes turns telling stories.

Parental participation sends a positive message, says McDanold. “If reading is valued and considered fun, that will come through.” Family members should take books on summer vacations and talk about what they’re reading, she says.

Another summer reading travel idea? Play books on tape during those late-summer road trips. “Find classic kids’ books that adults enjoy — Harry Potter comes to mind — and poetry by Jack Prelutsky and Shel Silverstein,” says McDanold.

Audio books can be magical, she says. “It’s not just an escape by yourself; you share the experience and have that under your belt forever. It will be part of your family lore.”

Linda Morgan, ParentMap associate editor, is the author of the forthcoming book Beyond Smart: Boosting Your Child’s Academic, Social, and Emotional Potential.

The ABCs of boosting summer reading

Access to books. It’s critical that kids have access to a wide variety of books over the summer months, but we know that access alone doesn’t make a strong impact.

Books that match readers’ ability levels and interests. For young people’s reading skills to improve, they need to read books that align with their own reading levels. Reading books that are too easy or too hard won’t help.

Comprehension, as monitored and guided by an adult, teacher or parent. The most important piece to making summer reading effective is the help of an adult who can ask questions and guide kids to better understand what they are reading.

Source: National Center for Summer Learning at Johns Hopkins University

Great summer reads for kids

Following is a list of great reads for kids, compiled and reviewed by Maria Pontillas, youth services librarian at the Tacoma Public Library.

Summer reading picks for elementary school students:

A Couple of Boys Have the Best Week Ever by Marla Frazee. Two young boys, Eamon and James, spend an action-packed weekend at Eamon’s grandparents’ beach cottage in this lively picture book.

The Foggy, Foggy Forest by Nick Sharratt. What’s going on in the forest? Opaque pages keep kids guessing as famous storybook characters frolic between the pages of this picture book.

The Doghouse by Jan Thomas. When the ball accidentally goes into the doghouse, Mouse sends his friends in, one by one, to retrieve it. But they don’t come out. Will Mouse be next? A silly picture book just right for sharing.

Savvy by Ingrid Law. Mibs Beaumont’s 13th birthday will be special. Thirteen is the year that the Beaumont kids get their savvy — or special talent. One brother creates electricity, another commands hurricanes. What will Mibs’ savvy be?

The Maze of Bones by Rick Riordan. Siblings Amy and Dan are heartbroken when their grandmother dies, but at her funeral they are invited to enter a game that promises worldwide domination to the winner. They embark on a worldwide challenge to chase down the 39 clues and defend the family name. First book in the “39 Clues” series.

The Bill Martin Jr. Big Book of Poetry, edited by Bill Martin Jr. This collection of favorite poems for kids features illustrations from several famous children’s illustrators.

Summer reading for tweens:

The Underneath by Kathi Appelt. Part legend, part love story, part animal tale, The Underneath is the unforgettable story of an old dog named Ranger and three abandoned cats that live under a rickety house in the swamp. When Ranger’s cruel owner separates them, the animals struggle to be reunited.

Invasion of the Road Weenies by David Lubar. Like The Twilight Zone for kids, this book is filled with creepy, funny and just plain weird short stories.

Waiting for Normal by Leslie Connor. Twelve-year-old Addie just wants a normal life. Her mother is busy with new business ideas and boyfriends. Her mom’s ex-husband, Dwight, has his own family to take care of. Who has time for Addie?

The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart. Answering an ad, talented orphan Reynie Muldoon joins three other special children to form the Mysterious Benedict Society, whereupon they are sent on a special mission to infiltrate the Learning Institute for the Very Enlightened. A Lemony Snicket–inspired adventure.

Middle School Is Worse Than Meatloaf by Jennifer Holm. Told through diary entries, notes, class schedules, and other “stuff,” seventh-grader Ginny Davis is having a hard time adjusting to middle school. Her former best friend got the lead in the ballet, Brian Bukvic keeps bothering her, and her juvenile delinquent brother may have pulled his last prank ever.

What the World Eats by Peter Menzel and Faith D’Alusio. Ever wonder what families in Egypt eat? Flip through this book, which features photos and facts about kitchens, cooking and food from all over the world.

Summer reading faves for teens:

What I Saw and How I Lied by Judy Blundell. When 16-year-old Evie’s stepdad, Joe, returns from World War II, life goes back to normal, but one day a mysterious phone call sends the family to Florida. There, a handsome ex-soldier catches Evie’s eye, but he seems to make Joe nervous. Sometimes things are not what they seem.

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. If you like watching Survivor, you’ll love The Hunger Games! Sixteen-year-old Katniss gets a chance to save her family from a life of poverty when she is randomly chosen to participate in the Hunger Games, a competition that pits kids against each other in a fight to the death.

Little Brother by Cory Doctorow. When terrorists blow up a bridge in San Francisco, 17-year-old Marcus and his friends are kidnapped and cruelly questioned by the police as suspects. Now the government is watching their every move.