How to encourage your kids to read over the summer
Kids' reading ability can decline if they don't read over the summer. Source: Shutterstock

The summer break is no excuse for kids to slack off on their reading. Quite the contrary, it’s an opportune time for them to pick up a book and brush up on the skill.

According to, “Just like exercising keeps muscles in shape, reading keeps the brain in shape. If you don’t exercise, you lose muscle, and if you don’t read, you will lose literacy skills.”

A study by the University of Tennessee, Knoxville in 2010 showed a significantly higher level of reading achievement in students who received books for summer reading at home. Those who don’t, end up falling behind.

Richard Allington, one of the researchers, said, “What we know is that children who do not read in the summer lose two to three months of reading development while kids who do read tend to gain a month of reading proficiency.

“This creates a three to four month gap every year. Every two or three years the kids who don’t read in the summer fall a year behind the kids who do.”

This decline in reading ability (as well as other academic skills) that can occur over the long summer holidays is commonly known as the ‘summer slide’.

But at a time where global literacy growth rates are slowing, it can be challenging for some parents to get their kids to read during the regular school term.

There are also parents from low-income backgrounds who lack the resources to provide a steady stream of books for their kids.

So how can you motivate your kids to pick up a book and actually read it start-to-finish during the summer?

Forcing them won’t do, as in order for a reading habit to really stick long-term, it has to be a fun and enjoyable activity.

Here are two ways that have proven successful for other parents and teachers.

Joining a summer reading programme or “challenge”

For parents who can’t afford books for their kids, taking them to the national or local libraries are a great way to get them to enjoy reading.

Due to dropping literacy rates in several countries, libraries have implemented summer reading programmes to spur interest and recommend age-appropriate books for kids.

WGBH recently reported that Boston, Massachusetts in the US offers a “robust reading summer program” that brings families to the library.

“The city hopes families might connect with books and meet librarians who can offer some guidance. Boston has also put together a summer reading challenge and a well-regarded list of recommended books for a narrow range of grade levels — for example, three to five.

“Staff at the Boston Public Library and Boston Public Schools, including teachers and school librarians, compiled those lists.”

These programmes usually organise fun activities for kids, free meals, and other incentives to attract families to spend some time reading.

In Newark, New Jersey, there is a Summer Reading Programme where the Newark Free library hosts “dozens of events for kids, including a weekly family film series at 2pm each Tuesday and a pajama story time every Monday at 6:30pm from July 8 to Aug 12,” as well as a Campfire Kids story time and sing-along.

They also give out prizes to kids who have logged 10 hours of reading, such as free books and gelato coupons.

Some summer programmes are called ‘challenges’ to motivate students to read in a goal-oriented way.

In the UK, the Summer Reading Challenge is the biggest reading challenge for children ages four to 11, featuring different themes per year.

Kids can sign up at their local library, then read six library books of their choosing to complete the Challenge, collecting rewards along the way. They keep track of their reading on the website where they can also take part in competitions, mini challenges, and play games.

Letting them read what they like

While recommended reading lists help parents narrow down the list among the thousands of books out there, some educators advise parents to let kids read what they want to over the summer.

Donalyn Miller, Texas teacher and author of “The Book Whisperer,” said, “When kids get to self-select their own books to read, they have higher motivation and interest for reading [and] they will … stick with the book longer, even if it presents some academic challenges, because they’re highly motivated to read the book.”

Reading what they like helps promote a genuine interest for reading which can turn into a hobby for life.

According to ReadBrightly, ” When kids have access to libraries and the freedom to self-select books, they develop their identities as readers. It’s part of an education that allows them to learn how to think, not what to think. But still, some adults want to tell them what to read.”

“If we want to pass a love of reading to the next generation, we have to allow them to have joy when they read. This sometimes means reading books with fart jokes, books with wizards that defeat evil, graphic novels, series, and books that speak truths that resonate with kids. Unfortunately, these books are often challenged within schools and libraries.”

Letting them self-select their own books also leads to a higher chance of kids finding their “gateway” book, getting them hooked onto a particular genre or series and providing the foundation for a lifelong love for books.

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