I recently overheard a conversation between two moms who were talking about their kids' reading habits. One of the women said that her son just loved to read and it was difficult to get him to put down a book -- to which the other one replied, "You're so lucky!" But luck has nothing to do with it. Children who love to read come from what I call a "reading culture," which is an environment that values reading, is rich in printed materials (not just books), and has adults who are reading role models.
It is up to you to create an enthusiastic reader, and summer is the perfect time to do that. It is a great time to start new traditions, rituals, and activities that make your family more print-friendly. Studies show that children who come from what researchers call a "print-rich environment" consistently score better in writing, reading, and math skills than children who come from a "print-poor environment." Print, in this case, relates to a wide variety of materials including books, magazines, newspapers, and even comic books. When researchers examined 21 kindergarten classes to see who displayed high interest in reading and who showed low interest, it became clear that the home environment and parents' reading habits were crucial factors.
Typically, kids who don't read during the summer lose academic skills over the break time. This is known in academic circles as "summer learning loss," and studies show that kids often lose two to three months of reading progress over the break. For older children and the economically disadvantaged the gap is even bigger. According to researchers Donald Hayes and Judith Grether, "The differential progress made during the four summers between 2nd and 6th grade accounts for upwards of 80 percent of the achievement difference."
But it doesn't have to be that way! Summer is a great time to help your child fall in love with reading. Here are a dozen things you can do to help your child develop a passion for reading:
1) Make summer reading goals as a family. Mom and Dad are not off the hook! Parents are the best reading role models a kid has, so making goals for every family member makes it more likely your child will achieve her goals. When working together to make your child's goals, keep in mind that a study done by Jimmy S. Kim found that students who read four to five books over the summer scored significantly better than their peers.
2) Give your child literary free will. In her book The Book Whisperer: Awakening the Inner Reader in Every Child, Donalyn Miller talks a lot about the importance of letting children pick the books that call to them and not being critical of their choices. Never criticize your child's choice of reading materials. It is okay to read a book multiple times, to choose comic books or magazines, or to read a less traditional book. What matters is that the child has the experience of connecting with the literature.
3) Have book baskets throughout your home. If you don't already have book baskets in your home, start this summer. Always keep book baskets accessible. We keep ours in my kids' rooms, our bedroom (we have a "Mom book box" and a "Dad book box"), the kitchen, bathrooms, and even the cars. We rotate the books regularly but if one of my kids is particularly attached to a specific title, that book can stick around longer. Having lots of books available makes it more likely that your child will find a book he connects with and will keep reading all summer long.
4) Encourage your child to carry reading material and do the same yourself. This makes reaching those summer reading goals more achievable. Next time you are standing together in a long line at the bank, let your child see you pulling out a book. Instead of buying your child a Game Boy or cell phone for his birthday, get him a Nook which allows him to carry a world of books and weighs less than a magazine.
5) Continue reading to your child, even after she has learned to read for herself. I encourage you to continue to read aloud as long as possible to your child. One of my happiest childhood memories is my mother reading The Secret Gardenby Frances Hodgson Burnett. She read the same copy of the book to me that her own mother had read to her, the same one that I will one day read to my daughters. I was about seven years old at the time; and even though the book is recommended for nine to twelve-year-olds, I loved it. Children are able to listen on a different and more advanced reading level than they are able to read. It isn't until about the eighth grade that they are able to listen and read on the same level. Make read-aloud books part of your summer experience with your child.
6) Create family reading rituals. Have a regular family reading ritual, a time when the television and the computers are off and you all hang out in a room reading. Seeing parents reading, especially dads, sets a great example for children. It can help everyone achieve their summer reading goals and it shows that literacy is a family priority, not to mention that having quiet time together also creates a wonderful connection.
7) Use books for bibliotherapy. When your child or family is going through a difficult time or a big transition, like moving into a new house, starting a new school, or going through a divorce, use books to ease the transition. When our cat died, my kids and I appreciated books like I'll Always Love You, Jasper's Day, When a Pet Dies, and The Tenth Good Thing About Barney. These books helped explain complex ideas, opened conversation, and gave us words for our grief. Using a difficult experience to help guide a child to a book as a summer reading choice can help him to have a healing literary experience and open his eyes to a new author.
8) Give your child a book light so she can read in bed. Younger children can have a child-friendly flashlight or even a book light. Once she's old enough you can give her a bed lamp and let her stay up past bedtime. Jim Trelease, author of The Read-Aloud Handbook, recommends saying "We think you are now old enough to stay up later at night, like Mommy and Daddy do, so we bought you this lamp so you can stay up and read if you want. If you don't want to read, that is okay too. We'll just turn off the light at the usual time." This makes reading time extra special. Summer is a great time to start this new tradition. That way if your child stays up very late reading, there is a little more of an opportunity to make up for lost sleep in the morning.
9) Buy books as random gifts. Summer time is the perfect time to get in the habit of giving books to your child as presents. You don't have to wait for a birthday or holiday, just give a book for no reason at all. Make books appear out of nowhere. The other day, I felt like a magician when one of my daughters pointed to a picture of a book she wanted and asked me if I would buy it for her. Having guessed that she would like that particular book, I had already bought it and was holding onto it, waiting for the perfect moment to make it appear! I keep hidden baskets of books in the house so that we always have something new and exciting available to read.
10) Take your child to the library. In a study of children from print-poor environments, parents reported that 96 percent of the children became more interested in reading after a single visit to the library, and 94 percent spent more time with books after one visit. Encourage your child to get to know the librarian this summer. I have a book-loving friend who brings her kids to the library so frequently that they are on a first name basis with the librarian.
11) Start a book club with your child. Book clubs are a social way to nurture a life-long love of reading by giving kids the chance to share their reading experience with other children. Forming a summer book club is a great way to get other parents and kids involved in summer reading, making it more likely that your child will read those four or more books over the vacation. Make peer pressure work in your favor.
12) Create positive reading associations. Never use reading as a punishment and don't reprimand if your child doesn't reach his reading goals. Instead, create positive incentives and rituals. Your child will remember your whole family camped out under a tree in the park reading together or a celebratory family outing to the ice cream store that was sparked because everyone in the family finished their first book of the summer. Look for ways to celebrate your family's emerging love of books this summer, whenever you can.
Check out the American Library Association for some suggested reading, or Wolford's library page!