Tips & Advice

I Know What You
Did(n’t Read) Last Summer

by Laura Lambert

Photo credit: Denise Crew, Blend Images/Getty Images

We’re nearing the first day of school and my best laid plans for beating the summer slump have, well, slumped. The bedtime story is well-established; it’s the other 23 hours and 40 minutes of the day that are of concern. With September looming on the calendar, how do you get one kindergartner and one fourth grader back into books? Here are a few easy strategies for kids of all ages:

Take Turns
Sometimes the heft of a book — 25 pages in this chapter?!?!? — can feel overwhelming when you’ve been out of your reading rhythm. One way to change it up is to do what my daughter (and plenty of education folks) calls “popcorn reading.” In our version, there’s no popcorn reward — it’s you do a page, then I do a page. For littler readers, it’s easy to break it down even further — you do a line, I do a line.

Listen Up
I have argued both sides of the debate over books on tape. But if you can get over, for a moment, whether listening is “the same” as reading, you can use long commutes or road trips as a tool. Download something the whole family can get into. Stir the passion for stories and storytelling and the transition back to regular reading will be that much easier.

Get Mobile
Another alternative, should books on tape not do it for you, is to put books where kids are bored — namely, the car. As Mary Ann Scheuer, librarian and book lover behind the blog Great Kid Books, put it: “Research has shown that two elements are key: children’s access to interesting books and choice of books that they can read.”

Truth be told, I’m not above a brazen bribe. For example, my eight-year-old can’t go to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios Hollywood until she finishes Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, simple as that.

Quid Pro Quo
All screen time is earned with reading minutes. This is normally the rule, September through June, but we let everything go to pieces because … summer.

If the summer reading list isn’t a nice-to-have, which is the case for my kids, but a should-have-done for school, which is often the case for older kids, you can do what tweens, teens, and even adults have done for centuries — cram. A full-blown reading blitz often starts out miserably, but ends momentously, as the anxiety of having procrastinated gives way to the pleasure of having read.

Sometimes the inspiration you need is already sitting there on your bookshelf. Grab an oldie but goodie. You can breeze right through it, which is all the momentum you need to feel the feels that a good book offers. The pleasures of re-reading are well-documented, for kids and adults alike. 

Get Thee to a Library
In the spirit of simply making books available — which is a tool we should all employ, 365 days of year — schedule regular library outings for the remaining days of summer. It’s free. There’s low-to-no investment in books that lose your interest. And — bonus! — most are air-conditioned.

Talk It Out
Last but not least — and notable because it probably comes naturally to any book-loving parent: Talk about what they’re reading. As Scheuer points out, “Learning is social — kids will get engaged more if you value their ideas, ask for their recommendations, talk with them.”