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Expert Q and A

Each month, you'll be able to get answers directly from experts covering a wide range of parenting topics. You'll also have a chance to share your own expert tips with other parents. Join the conversation!

Current Expert

Boys and Summer Reading

by Jen Robinson

Following up on her summer reading Q&A, children's book enthusiast Jen Robinson is offering tips on getting boys into books. Ask her a question. Read and Comment »

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Tips for Encouraging Summer Reading

by Jen Robinson

Jen Robinson

Jen Robinson reviews and blogs about books for children. She has a passion for children's books and promoting reading. Read more »

One of the best things about summer is having more time to read. I like nothing more than to sit outside on a beautiful day, smelling the grass and feeling the breeze, lost in a good book. I have many memories of reading outside on summer afternoons as a kid. I used to read up in a tree in our side yard, or by the pool, or even occasionally up on the roof (not that I encourage such things - our roof had a big flat section). I remember reading on a raft in the lake while on vacation, swimming back and forth while holding the book up with one hand. Summer vacations and books are inseparable in my mind.

I'm not a fan of required summer reading. I think that's a way to turn something enjoyable into a chore. I understand why schools sometimes feel the need to call for required summer reading. Kids who don't read at all during the summer can see their performance drop (the "summer slide"). But I hate seeing required summer reading drag kids down. The idea of reading as something that one has to do, reluctantly, is depressing.

Summer reading should be a joy. Summer vacation should be a time to stretch out on a hammock or curl up in an armchair and dive deep into a fun, engrossing, fabulous read. Kids who spend time reading during the summer go back to school in the fall with their reading skills improved. This will help them in school, and help them later in life. But even more importantly, kids who read during the summer will form life-long memories and make powerful connections with books.

Parents can help make this magic happen. Here are a few simple tips:

  1. Make sure your kids have plenty of books. Take your kids to the library or the bookstore (new or used) to pick out some interesting new books. Go to the library every week, if you can. Go to yard sales, and sort through the books there. Organize a book swap in your neighborhood or scout troop. Do whatever you need to do to keep a fresh supply of books around.
  2. Always pack up books whenever you go somewhere, for your kids and for yourself (including audiobooks). Make sure your kids see you reading, whether it's on the beach, while waiting for the softball game to start, or at home. Bonus points if you spend some of your time reading kids' books. Then you can also talk about the books with your kids, and recommend other books that they might like. Listen to audiobooks in the car, especially on long trips. Pick books that are fun and/or exciting. You'll find that these add to your family's common frame of reference. And they makes the drives go by a lot more quickly.
  3. Encourage social reading. If your child wants to read a book because other kids are reading it (and you don't have personal reasons why you think your child isn't ready for the book), by all means get a copy. This reinforces the idea that reading is cool, and gives your child a chance to talk about the book with others. Consider buying two copies of the same book, for your child and his or her best friend, so that they can both read it. Maybe start a book club. Take the kids to see a movie based on a book, and also read the book. Do whatever you can to make reading cool and social.
  4. Try not to get hung up on whether or not your child "could" be reading more advanced books. Do you read Proust on your summer vacation, or do you read James Patterson? Kids turn to books for a respite from cares sometimes, just as adults do. They don't want everything they read to educational. There's no harm in suggesting the occasional book that's more of a stretch, but don't push too hard. If kids find reading enjoyable, they'll keep reading, and they will eventually push themselves. For that to happen, they just need to spend time reading.
  5. Try to keep some time available for reading. This is perhaps the hardest thing, as schedules fill up with sports, cookouts, trips and movies. These are all fun, too. But if you ask me, there's no substitute for the occasional afternoon spent perched up in a tree exploring far-off worlds through books.
  6. And that's it. A prescription for getting kids reading this summer. Get great books, take them places with you, make reading social, keep reading from being a chore or a contest, and leave a bit of time for reading on the schedule. There are no guarantees, of course. But if you do all of these things, you're setting the stage for a reading-filled summer.

    Here are a few recent titles that I think are perfect summer reading for kids who enjoy fiction:

    - The Penderwicks at Point Mouette by Jeanne Birdsall reviewed here
    (Start with the first Penderwicks book, if you haven't already read it.)
    - A Million Miles from Boston by Karen Day reviewed here
    - Squish: Super Amoeba by Jennifer L. Holm and Matthew Holm reviewed here
    - Lunch Lady and the Summer Camp Shakedown by Jarrett J. Krosoczka reviewed here
    - Touch Blue by Cynthia Lord reviewed here
    - The Lost Hero by Rick Riordan (No review, but it's a second series set in the same world as the Percy Jackson series.)
    - Penny Dreadful by Laurel Snyder reviewed here
    - The Emerald Atlas by John Stephens reviewed here

    I have many more recommendations on my site and will share some specific recommendations for boys next week.

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