Rated “R” for Required: How To Help Your Kids Tackle Their Required Summer Reading

by Laura Lambert

Photo credit: Cyndi Monaghan, Moment Collection/Getty Images

I still can’t live down that time I didn’t do my summer reading.

It was the summer before graduate school. The book: Robert Caro’s 1,246-page, Pulitzer-Prize winning tome, The Power Broker. I had all summer and simply procrastinated to the point that starting was futile. The book was meant to give us budding, wannabe reporters a richer, larger context for the city — New York — in which we were being groomed. Every time someone referenced it in lectures or small groups, I slunk down in my seat and tried my very best to disappear. It was hopeless. You can’t speed-read 1200+ pages.

For kids who might similarly find themselves facing a fat book that holds slim interest, I want nothing but to save them from the same lifetime of shame and regret — or, at the very least, save you, dear parents, from weeks of incessant nagging. And to that end, I spoke to librarian Lori Frumkin, of the Chicago Public Library (CPL), who is one of the forces behind CPL’s Summer Learning Challenge.

Here’s what I learned about how to help your kids with their required summer reading.

Required doesn’t have to be a bad word.

“Required” doesn’t necessarily mean the book will be a long bore — even if kids assume it does.

“I guess it’s the word ‘required,’” says Frumkin. “It makes people think, this isn’t something I want to do but that I have to do. But, from what I’ve seen, it’s a list the teacher has curated and developed and usually there are some great books on there.”

It’s not just about the book, it’s about the experience of reading.

If the title isn’t a fit, but it’s a must-read, then your best bet is to create an environment around reading that’s fun. Connect the characters or storyline to the real world — and talk about them. Frumkin has endless suggestions — cooking a dish inspired by the book, going to a museum or taking a road trip relevant to a character, tackling a relevant science or a design project. Draw. Write. Paint.

Yes, this is a lot more work for you as a parent. Also yes, it works.

But, yes, sometimes the problem is the book.

And that’s fine. A child doesn’t have to love every book he or she picks up — just like you, adult reader, don’t have to love every title you start.

“It’s okay to read a book and not like it. It’s okay to have criticism,” says Frumkin. “You can talk to other people about it, or write a review — those are good skills for a child to have.”

And sometimes, it’s the reader.

A lot of so-called “reluctant readers” simply haven’t found the right book, says Frumkin. So if you have options for summer reading, it can help to be flexible when it comes to genre or title.

If you can’t change the book, again, you can change the experience.

“As opposed to saying, ‘Go in your room, do it, and get it done,’ you want to make it a different experience,” says Frumkin. “Talk about it. Why do you like it? Why do you not like it? Let’s lounge out. Let’s make a reading tent in the living room, or another cozy spot to read. If they don’t love the book, make the experience as fun as it can be.”

Bribing is okay.

Think about it. What do most library summer reading programs do? They have built-in incentives — points! prizes! That extra, external motivation is sometimes all a kid needs to get through even the least compelling book. (Here are some tips on Reading Rewards That Work.)

Your local library is there for you.

Don’t go it alone. Your local library is bound to have a summer reading program that can be hacked to meet your needs.

At CPL, the program isn’t just about summer reading, it’s about summer learning — and they break that down into three parts.

• Read. The goal is 500 minutes over the entire summer.
• Discover. Investigate something.
• Create. Make something.

“We wanted to promote those 21st-century learning skills — like creativity and problem-solving,” explains Frumkin. “Kids are already reading with us all summer. So the learning program brings in some new kids, maybe kids who are reluctant readers. We have something to attract them, too — and we link everything with reading.”

Why does required summer reading exist? Because we need it.

Says Frumkin, “Research shows — and we know — the more they read over the summer, the better they combat the summer slide and build those academic skills rather than losing them.”

Don’t forget the basics.

It goes without saying that a few simple strategies help set everyone up for success — parents and kids alike.

• Start early. Twenty minutes per day for 25 days sure beats 500 minutes in three days.
• Schedule it. If you make time for reading, you’ll have time for reading.
• Read together. Everything’s better together, including reading.


How do you motivate a not-so-motivated reader? Share your tips with us in the comments below!