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.

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Porch Reading

It has been so lovely and warm lately, and I finally got around to clearing the winter muck off of our porch.  This is our favorite spot to read as a family.  It makes me feel like summer is on its way, and I love sitting and working where I can the house wrens bickering and a persistent woodpecker deep in the woods.  The following books would be perfect to read on your porch, patio, balcony, public park, lawn chair, or heck, even your sofa.  I really enjoyed these three: Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk, The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane, and New Boy.

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Challenging Reads

I’ve been thinking about how and why we teach kids to read.  I believe one of the most important reasons is to create adults who love to read.  To inspire readers who will seek out books that challenge and change them, open their hearts to new worlds and ideas.  These two books did that for me.

I went into Evicted expecting to deepen my understanding of the housing crisis in our country and the heartache people face with eviction.  Having witnessed the effects firsthand with many of my students over the years, I thought I had a decent understanding.  This book laid bare just how much I still didn’t understand, and I am pushing it on everyone I know.    The research is so completely thorough and respectful, and the conclusions equal parts heartbreaking and inspiring.

Another important work is Burning Country, an education on the human rights disaster of Syria.  Don’t let the heaviness of the subject matter of either dissuade you – I came out of both of these reinvigorated to create positive change.   Continue reading

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Love stories

I have some heavy non-fiction headed your way quite soon, but I have just a minute before another child-running errand, so I thought I’d post these.  A book of love stories, Paris for One, and a book that is about a woman finding more than love for herself, The Stars are Fire.  Both are good choices for escapist reading, or woven between heavier fare.   Continue reading

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