For many lifelong readers, the words “summer reading” conjure pleasant memories of long, slow childhood days curled up with books, embarking on one literary adventure after another. For children who are reluctant or struggling readers, however, “summer reading” sounds about as appealing as eating lima beans for dessert.
The research on summer reading is very clear—just twenty minutes of reading per day, or about four chapter books per summer, can help your child retain grade-level skills. It seems so simple, and yet, for reluctant readers (and their caregivers!), it’s not. And that makes sense: twenty minutes can seem like an eternity if you’re doing something you hate to do.
But that’s no reason to give up on summer reading! If your child is a reluctant or struggling reader, here are some ways to make summer reading more enjoyable for both of you.
1. Take a break from focusing on what your child’s reading level is and what it “should be.”
Reading levels are helpful tools for teachers in a classroom. Knowing students’ reading levels allows teachers to develop appropriate lesson plans and recommend interventions if necessary. Outside of a classroom setting, however, reading levels can quickly become a source of angst and anxiety.
When it comes to academic skills, children’s brains don’t always develop in a predictable manner. It’s very common to see huge gains one year, very little growth the next year, moderate growth after that, etc. During periods of low growth, caregivers often panic, fearing their children will never catch up to their peers (who may or may not be at grade level themselves).
It’s tempting to turn to Google to look for the “right” way to get your child back on track, but the truth is that flash cards, phonics activities, and extra worksheets can add to your child’s discouragement and reluctance to read. These tools can reinforce the message that “everyone is already better at reading,” so why should they even try?
This summer, take a break from thinking about reading levels and let your child take a break from it, too. Instead, focus on ways to increase enjoyment–the growth will still happen in due course, but you will save yourself some battles.
2. Allow your child more freedom to choose their reading materials.
Reluctant readers often have a hard time finding reading materials to enjoy. Your child may feel like the “good stuff” is off-limits to anyone who struggles.
Choice is very powerful for reluctant and struggling readers. Allowing them the space to choose something too “hard,” “easy,” or “silly” will make them feel like they have some ownership in their own progress. For some, lack of ownership is a huge barrier; once that barrier is removed, the progress is tremendous.
You could also start by asking your child about the last book they remember enjoying, even if that was way back in preschool. If you can, find that book and re-read it together. Re-reading it will be a fun walk down memory lane and will remind your child that reading hasn’t always been a discouraging task.
You can also have a conversation about all the options they have: comic books, magazines, picture books, chapter books, nonfiction books, interactive e-books, recipes, how-to books…your child may not even know some of these options are available.
And of course, if you aren’t sure where to start, you can reach out to our staff for customized recommendations. We love connecting children with their new favorite books, so let us help you!
3. Model what it looks like to be a reader.
If your child sees you taking the time to read for fun, it will reinforce the idea that reading is not just an academic skill. In fact, there is a good deal of research that suggests that people become readers simply because they are in close relationships with people who like to read.
Try having “family reading time,” where each person in your family reads on their own for 10-20 minutes. It might feel awkward and clunky at first, but when children see adults become absorbed in what they’re reading, their curiosity and motivation increases.
4. Do it together.
One lesson I learned as a school librarian is that the sillier I felt while reading aloud, the more fun the students were having. Something as simple as a dramatic, adult-led read-aloud can lighten the pressure reluctant readers feel every time they approach a new book.
Take turns reading one paragraph or page at a time. Challenge each other to create voices for each character. Act the story out. If you feel silly, you’re doing great!
5. Mix it up.
All children, book-lovers and reluctant readers alike, have books they would gladly read again and again and again. This isn’t a problem in itself–repetition is part of how children learn sight words, story structure, and new vocabulary.
But for parents…reading the same book over and over again gets old quickly. Furthermore, if your child is reluctant to try any new books, the repetition ceases to be helpful.
You can allow for some repetition while adding variety to your child’s reading materials. Ask them to read a recipe aloud while you’re making dinner, check out magazines for them to look through, listen to an audiobook while following along on the page (“The Bad Beginning“ by Lemony Snicket is an amazing, Grammy Award-winning audiobook that I love recommending to reluctant readers).
Additionally, you can add variety by changing your setting. Have a picnic and read in the park. Have Flashlight Fridays, where you turn off all the lights, get cozy, and read by flashlight.
It doesn’t have to be complicated, systematic, or overly “prepared.” As adults, we know how refreshing it can be to have a change of scenery; children need this, too.
However discouraging previous summer reading experiences have been, it’s not too late for a fresh start! With patience, time, and a new approach, this could be your best summer yet.
As always, let us know how we can help you!