Every year as the school year winds down, summer reading challenges appear. It seems everyone wants to encourage kids to read over the summer. And for good reason – research shows that children who read over the summer perform better academically than those who do not.
But it’s not always easy to get kids to sit down and read. Whether a child’s summer schedule is more relaxed with more time at home, or more frantic with summer camps and schedule juggling, summer reading isn’t always a child’s first priority. So here are six tips to help encourage the reader in your child.
1. Visit the library.
Public libraries are an amazing resource with rows of shelves of children’s books for kids of all ages. Not to mention – free! If you don’t already have one, sign up for a library card, and let your child get their own. In addition to the free books, many libraries offer programming such as story time, summer reading challenges or essay contents. Plus, libraries come with knowledgeable librarians who love to support children in their reading journeys. There’s nothing like a visit to the library where a child can see and hold physical books to create a little spark for reading.
2. Let them choose their own books.
Reading really won’t be fun if the child isn’t interested in the books. Think about it – would you want to read about something you truly didn’t care about? Probably not, even if someone you know loved it. It’s perfectly reasonable to give book suggestions or to hope your children love the same books you cared about as a child, but if they’re not interested, don’t force it.
If the child has a hard time picking, guide them towards collections of books that you think may appeal to their interests, such as graphic novels, fantasy, adventure, animals or characters they’re familiar with. Try out a variety and see what they like, and then look for similar books next time.
3. Make books available and an appealing option.
If children are going to read, they have to see books as a reasonable and fun thing to do. Given all the other entertainment options available to them, how can books rise to the top?
Make sure books are accessible. Check where books are kept in the home – can the child access them easily? Are they near a comfortable spot to sit and read?
Consider what is competing for the child’s attention and time. Setting screen and phone-free time is one way to create space for reading. If they can’t be on a device, they may pick up a book. But if they are on their phone most of the day, it will be hard to give the necessary attention to reading.
A quick note: some older children might find they enjoy reading eBooks, and in some cases, eBooks may be the most accessible option for your family. If this is the case, you may need to add a caveat to screen-free time that the child can use their device to read.
Does the child have unstructured time? If every moment is packed with activities, it can be hard to find time to read. Consider ways to loosen the schedule. An unmotivated reader won’t prioritize reading in a busy day, but a bored child might pick up a book.
4. Set a reading time.
Designate a certain time of day specifically for reading, then set a timer for a reasonable amount of time. For an early reader, 10 minutes might be all they can do unassisted. For an elementary aged child, 20-30 minutes is reasonable. A middle school or older child could probably do 45 minutes to an hour but may have to work up to it.
Think about when your child is most likely to read – for some that might be earlier in the morning before they get tired out from the day’s activities, for some it might fill that afternoon lull, and others might do best after dinner. It depends on the child and their energy level and other activities. Finding what works might take a few tries but give each try a week or so before switching it up. This will create a sense of consistency.
Don’t worry if the child doesn’t read the whole time, especially at the beginning. If they’re not used to independent reading, it may take some time. If you pass by and notice that they’re not reading, a simple and gentle reminder is enough… and if they still aren’t reading, that’s okay. Setting aside time for it with nothing else to do can eventually create a routine… and you may soon find that even the most reluctant child picks up a book and reads.
5. Create a reading environment.
Make sure there is somewhere conducive to reading in the home environment (which can include outdoors!) For some children, reading on their bed works, but others may get distracted by toys or other items in the room. Some kids may do better at a kitchen table or outside on the steps.
Turn off all electronic devices during reading time. If the child is reading in a common area, make sure there are no TVs on, which can cause distraction.
6. Try audiobooks.
Audiobooks are a great alternative for children who struggle, for a variety of reasons, to sit and read. Most libraries have a wide selection of audiobooks available for free with a library card. You can listen to them in the car, on a road trip or commute, while cleaning up or making dinner, or during a designated reading time. Bonus points for listening as a family and having a discussion after!
Like with anything, getting into a reading habit takes time. But consistency and a load of patience can go a long way. It is important that reading is seen as a fun activity and is not a threat or a consequence. So, create a conducive environment for reading, make it a family priority and then sit back and be patient while your child learns to appreciate reading.