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Summer reading for kids, but make it cute
Lifelong cultivation + str8 bribery
My son recently told me, a professional writer and author, that he doesn’t really enjoy reading chapter books. I found this offensive and annoying. But the joke’s on him: he has to read three books and write reports on two of them by the time 6th grade starts in about a month.
I do not like to think of myself as someone who has to supervise her kid to make sure he reads over the summer. That is not my preferred summer version of myself. There is still a part of me who thinks the summer of 1996 was the best summer ever, but she lives inside the version of me who needs to sit next to her kid and make him read the instructions for his book report aloud so he doesn’t turn in a single space paragraph compared to the required 2-3 double spaced pages.
Some kids do love reading on their own, and that’s a lucky break. Others need some more supervision/help/encouragement. I have one of each of these kids. Based on this n of 2 I conclude that some kids’ desire to read chapter books is innate to some degree. Modeling good reading habits, fostering a love of various kinds of reading, and teaching your kids to navigate and enjoy the library are all well and good, even ideal. But sometimes you also have to push your child to pick up a book and stick with it because that’s just the kind of kid you got, and circumstances dictate they need to read, like, right now.
Tl;dr I saw this question on social media among witches and wanted to reassure some of you out there that you’re not the only one if you have a kid who is supposed to read this summer but requires various entry points and forms of encouragement — even if you’re deep down too much of a hot summer girl to deal. [NB: this issue includes some advice for kids with learning disabilities but is far from exhaustive. If you have a kid who learns differently and you’ve had success getting them to enjoy reading in the summer months, please share!]
Q: Has anyone had true success with summer reading for your kids? My kids are not natural readers. Any tricks/tips? They are 11 and 13.
Some witches responded —
“I pay my 12-year-old to read. $5 a book. I read books with him, and we talk about it along the way. I make him read as a way to earn more screen time. Sometimes I will read to him at night—he still loves that. And I try to pick books that have movies associated with them, and we watch the movie and compare.
Also—Epic! is an app that has 40,000 children’s books on it. Most of them are geared toward an elementary crowd, but I’m sure your kids could still find some great books to read on there. There are even audiobooks and read-to-me books. There’s a video feature, but it’s easy to turn it off. Kids get badges for reading books and minutes. They have a lot of graphic novels on there as well, which I find is good for the upper elementary/early middle school crowd.”
“When I taught 4th grade (eons ago), there was one kid who had improved reading scores from the previous end of the year. His mom said he had to read 1 hour for every 30 minutes of screen time for the whole summer.
Have I ever done this? No, no, I have not.”
“Audiobooks or being read to see every bit as important, so if that’s all that you can manage, it’s a-ok! Look for Playaways at the library — books on MP3 player and have one they can listen to on car rides, before bed, or whenever you can entice them into quiet time like rest hour in a hammock.
My brother was a struggling reader (undiagnosed dyslexia, ADHD), and my mom couldn’t get him to read books, but those were the magazine days, and he would devour Popular Mechanics and the like- so she let him read whatever magazine he wanted, in the most in-the-way places. (Why is the staircase so attractive to teen boys? Do they like getting stepped on?) Pick your battles and take what you can get.
If there’s a library reading program to entice them, do it. Some are hip to teen-focused rewards and cool book clubs.
No shame in paying or bribing! Read a book for an hour each day, and we go to a movie Friday night. Or 30 minutes of book time before screens.
If there’s any indication that there’s something contributing to a lack of success or sustained interest in reading, summer is a good time to get on that. ADHD, for example, can make it hard to focus on reading long enough to get sucked in. Dyslexics need good tutoring. If there’s something adding to the ‘not natural readers’ part, find that out now.”
“My kid is a reader, so take that grain of salt, but we basically let her read whatever she wants — when she was younger, she mostly read comics and graphic novels. Now she reads everything all the time. She still mostly reads Warriors and Wings of Fire, and she listens to audiobooks before bed. We also let her use Libby from the library, so she reads largely on an app. I think sometimes parents think they have to make their kids read a specific way, but I think the key is to model good reading habits, take kids to bookstores/ the library and let them pick out whatever they want, and then just give them space to do it.
Also, if your kids like superheroes, my kid loved DC’s graphic novels (Mera), and for comic books, loved the Young Avengers, Ms. Marvel, Runaways, and the Miles Morales Spider-man series. The Secret Invasion books that the new Marvel show is based on are super good too.”
“The Simpsons comic books are really good. I know of families that won’t let their kids watch the shows but are fine with the comics.”
“I struck up a plan with my 11-year-old son. Read 5 books and go to Six Flags! He is really excited and seems to be working. Please don’t tell him I would probably bring him to Six Flags regardless if he read five books or not. 🎢
Ps I missed a very obvious thing — it should have been SIX books for Six Flags!”
“I put this outside their room, bracing for pushback, but they’re into it!”
Finally, I askedof the kids’ lit newsletter what she’d advise parents whose kids really gotta read this summer. She typically advises a more organic exposure to books through different kinds of methods and media:
“My niece has always had an insane reading load. When she was in 5th grade, I gave her the ‘Christmas gift’ of reading all the assigned books with her — a two-person book club, which was really just me trying to support her and help her desperate parents. We’d read the books on our own and then talk on the phone or in person about them. We read all her school books together, all the way through— she graduated high school this past spring, and she’s a reader now.
I also set my oldest up with a reading record from her teacher this summer without comment — just a way to encourage some wider reading habits (‘read on a blanket under a tree,’ ‘read to a pet,’ various prompts for types of reading experiences, not just ‘tick this box for 30 days and get a new toy’).
I read aloud to my kids every day, even if it’s only for ten minutes. Picture books, chapter books, poetry. We listen to audiobooks together and separately (they count). I don’t stress whether they’re reading on their own at all, including during the summer. The important thing is exposure to language and access to books. The reading part will come if you keep jamming words into their brains (and enjoying it — they know when you’re slogging through) and modeling being a reader yourself, which does matter (no one likes to hear it because it means making time, but it’s unfortunately true).
I don’t buy into the myriad pressure re: academic achievement and success. Do I worry about brain drain? Maybe, sometimes, when I have the energy. The thing I care about is keeping the love of reading alive.”
But Sarah also concedes that if you’re in a place where your kids absolutely need to read over the summer like mine does, “Do whatever you have to do. Bribe. Cajole. I know that puts the onus on you; I know that’s annoying AF. But if it has to get done, then how can you support him in getting it done? Is he motivated by screen time? Make him read for it. Does he want some particular item or toy or whatever? Five minutes of reading = $1. Or something. There are no actual rules.”
(FTR, our rule this summer is if you read a few book chapters on Monday-Thursday, you can get whatever you want at 7-11 on Fridays. Wish us luck as we head into the home stretch.)
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