A Plea for Summer Reading

Although my calendar is jam-packed for the next few weeks, you can smell the end of the school year in the air.  As I get ready to release the students I’ve worked with this year, and find books for my own kids to read this summer, I’m thinking a lot about summer reading.  Allow me to proselytize for just a moment here.  I firmly believe that encouraging your kids to read over the summer is probably the most important thing you can do for their education. (STEAM camps?  Great.  Math games?  Fabulous.  But independent reading?  Essential.)  It’s even free, if you can get yourself and your kid to a library.

I know that this time of year parents are bombarded with irritating requests from schools and demands that their kids do this or that over the summer.  I get it.  And I understand wanting your kid to have a break, especially if school is challenging for them.  What I am saying is that if you want to ignore all of that, and just encourage your kid to read, that’s okay.

Ten minutes a day.  I know summer can be chaotic, trying to find childcare, driving kids everywhere they need to go, summer school and camps… but ten minutes.  Ten minutes can be snuck in before breakfast, after dinner, in that weird half hour before your next activity.  My kids love to read outside, at the park, on special “dates” at Starbucks.  I keep books in my car, on my porch, in their rooms, in the living room, everywhere.  I even have a guidebook to shells in my beach bag.

But you don’t have to do all that.  Just get your kid to a library, maybe every few weeks.  Let your kid pick whatever books they want.   This is key.  Don’t worry about their reading level, don’t worry if they only want to read about giant squids, or if they just want graphic novels.  (Obviously, if your kindergartener wants to read Hunger Games, you can feel free to intervene.)  But really.  The most important thing is that they have chosen the book and they want to read it.  If it’s too hard for them, they’ll struggle, and have to decide whether to keep going or give up.  That’s a valuable lesson!  If it’s too easy, they’ll finish it quickly, but they’ll have read it.

If you have an avid reader, then push them for an extra ten minutes on top of what they already read.  Just adding ten minutes to your kid’s reading time, even if that time is currently zero, will make an enormous difference for them when they head back in the fall.  Get to the library, as often as your schedule allows, let them pick out a big stack, and find time for them to read.  It’s that simple.

Your kid doesn’t want to read?  Read with them.  Read them a poem.  Read them something funny.  Let them get out that Monster Book of Sharks, even if they only read the captions.  Listen to audio books in the car, or at home.  If they are allowed to pick something they truly want to read, most kids will, eventually, read it.  Be persistent.

If you’re curious about how teachers are working with your kids, and how you can best support them and make sure your kid develops a love of reading, I’d recommend this quick book: Disrupting Thinking: Why How We Read Matters.  It’s aimed at teachers, but there is plenty in there for parents.  It has lots of pictures and graphs and you can flip through it easily and feel accomplished in just a short time.

Disrupting Thinking: Why How We Read Matters, Kylene Beers and Robert E. Probst

I have long believed that we need to change the way we teach reading, and this book helped me build upon what I was already trying to accomplish in my classroom.

If I was asked to state the main idea, it’s that we need to do something to change the fact that “read chapter 3 and answer the questions” is not a way to encourage lifelong learners or readers.  Adults don’t read that way.  Why should we force kids to read like that?  Beers and Probst instead focus on teaching kids to respond to the text, to notice their own thoughts and feelings.  To value those things in the classroom, use more dialogic questions, and focus on how literature can change us as readers.

They argue persuasively for allowing students to choose their own books freely, an idea I have always tried to incorporate.  If you have any qualms about whether kids should pick their own books, this may help.  They argue for focused silent reading time in classrooms.  (Hooray!) Equally importantly, they talk about how to structure that time and get the most out of it for you and your students.  Also, how to explain what you are doing and why kids are “just reading” to dubious administrators.

The key takeaway for parents here?  Just an additional ten minutes of daily independent reading of a book of their choice will have a dramatic impact on your child’s test scores, abilities, and hopefully, love of reading.

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