“Lorelei, how are you doing with your summer reading?”
“Great, mom! I’ll see you later.”
Later: “Lorelei, when you said you were doing great with your summer reading, can you please be more specific?”
“I’m up to page 7 in my first book!”
Oh boy, here we go again. We enter every summer with the best of intentions. We are going to read early and often. Not only are we going to bang out the reading lists, we are going to impress our next year’s teacher with a litany of masterpieces read. Then, in the blink of an eye, it is September. Reading logs, when we can find them, are stained, wrinkled, and pathetically scant. The panic (their’s) and the guilt (mine) start to set in. One year, Madelyn spent the last two days of summer under her covers, reading books with a flashlight through red-rimmed, tear filled eyes. All the while I was saying, I told you so. But, the truth is, I’m not really sure I did tell her so. I probably threw out a couple, “You should bring your book to the beach,” and “Why don’t you turn off the TV and pick up a book?” but I didn’t truly help her stay on track to meet her summer goals. I have learned from my mistakes.
1. You CANNOT, I repeat, CANNOT wait until August to start thinking about summer reading. Even if one month were enough time, August is filled with vacations, social events and angst as we all try to soak in the last rays of sun. You may be way too busy to pester your kids by then.
2. Put the reading logs in a visible, accessible place. If possible, leave them on the fridge or a bulletin board. If you have more than one child in school, there’s nothing like a little sibling rivalry to light the fire under a lazy butt. More importantly, you’ll be able to see exactly where your kids stand in terms of reaching their goals.
3. Book choice is everything. Help your kids pick the right books for them. Stick to their reading level and find stories to which they can relate. Don’t assume the books you loved or an older child loved will be a favorite of another child. When my kids say, “I don’t like to read,” after I shake a fist at the heavens for giving me a child who would say such a stupid thing, I respond. “Saying you don’t like to read is like saying you don’t like to eat. We all have different tastes. You just have to find the right book for you.” Ask friends who share similar interests, librarians and teachers for suggestions. And, remember, it is O.K. to stop a book midway. I’ve made the mistake (many times because I am a slow learner) of telling my kids to power through a book they hate just so they can add it to the list. In the time it took them to finish the book they dreaded, they could have read two they loved.
4. Read with them. My kids love when I pick up the same book they are reading. Whether you have a high school student tackling Great Expectations or a 2nd grader reading Super Fudge, all kids, all people, love to share their impressions and thoughts about a book with someone literally on the same page. Encourage an environment which supports summer reading. Leave books on tables, talk about books, read where your kids can see you.
5. As a last resort, and one I’ve been forced to use, set specific reading goals. Yes, this will then feel more like a job for you and homework for them, but the reward will be simply getting it done. While I would love my children to relish in the joy of days relaxing with a great book, during some summers, with some kids, this has to be enough. The more they read, even begrudgingly, the better chance they will eventually come to appreciate the written word.
It is important to remember reading is the backbone of academic success. Having to read over the summer is not a punishment, no matter how you are feeling when you’d rather sip a cocktail than read a children’s book or yell at your kids. Don’t take your child’s side over their teacher’s. This will only give them an excuse to blow off what may possibly be their only academic summer stimulation. I know the madness that is the end of the school year still has your head spinning. The imprint on my forehead from the tire tracks on the Mack truck that is Spring parenting is just beginning to fade. The last thing I want to do is to resurrect my inner drill sergeant, but believe me, work on the reading now before it is too late and the beginning of the school year will thank you for it.