As a literacy coach, it sometimes pains me that books are not always my kids go-to activity. They are much more likely to pick up their technology, their art supplies, or the toad that lives in the backyard when they want to unwind.

While these can all be great ways to spend time and can even be great for your brain, they cannot replace having a rich reading life.

I have such great memories of getting lost in books for days as a kid and I want this for them, too. There are so many other reasons beyond just wanting to recreate my childhood joy with them. I know now what I didn’t know then: that reading is one of the things that has the biggest impact on our kids academically. 

The Research Journal of the American Association of School Librarians has found that, “The amount of free reading done outside of school has consistently been found to relate to growth in vocabulary, reading comprehension, verbal fluency, and general information. Students who read independently become better readers, score higher on achievement tests in all subject areas, and have greater content knowledge than those who do not.”

These are things which, of course, I care about, but most importantly, reading opens up new worlds and ways of thinking to them while they sit on the couch. Amazing stuff.

Most of the research around reading points us in a direction that makes it easy for us as parents to help kids. According to the American Library Association, it’s actually ridiculously simple. Kids become better readers by reading. A lot. They should choose the books they read and those books should be ones that they can easily read in a week or two all on their own. Kids should have a chance to talk about what they are reading, ask questions and share their thinking. Done and done.

Using these basics and keeping all the extra teacher stuff that crowds my brain out of the equation (I am sometimes tempted to do comprehension checks and reading conferences, but this is reading for pleasure so that might get in the way of their fun), I set up our summer reading kick off. My goal: to keep it simple and something that would run itself once we got started. Here it is:

1 | Let kids know why it is important for them to read. 

I let my kids in on the fact that reading more books will help them. According to Kylene Beers, one of my favorite reading experts, kids who read 10-15 books in the summer gain as much academically as those who attend a summer school program to help their reading achievement.

The opposite of this is a little scary. Kids who don’t read in the summer lose two to three months of reading achievement. We talk about how all their hard work in the last quarter of school doesn’t even count if they don’t read over the summer. And who wants that? I have found unequivocally in my work with students that they love to be told WHY we are having them do something. Remember when your little ones couldn’t stop asking, “Why?” They still think it when they are big (if we are lucky). Once I have them motivated it is pretty easy to make reading goals.

2 | Get them thinking about what they want to read. 

The first rule here is that kids are in charge of choosing what they will read.  There will be books read about Five Nights at Freddy’s, Minecraft, snakes, fishing….nothing is off limits. Just because I wouldn’t pick it doesn’t mean my kid can’t enjoy it. So high five to our friend Captain Underpants and a summer of the classics turned into graphic novels. Let them choose and they might surprise themselves by loving it.

At the same time, kids might not know what’s out there for them to choose from. I share stories with them about books I love. I put these books in their hands after “selling” them on these. I bring them to the library to hear book talks, find lists online of great reads, do whatever I can to hype-up different titles so they can’t wait to read them. 

Help your kids voice their interests, then help them find some nonfiction or other texts that align with these. If you are excited about books or about finding new things to read, they will be too.

3 | Kids and parents make reading goals. 

Start by making a list of books you want to read or reread. We simply counted the weeks in the summer and then chose a title we wanted to read that week. For us, this meant hitting the internet and friends for recommendations. The goal is ONE BOOK A WEEK. Choosing a longer text (over 200 pages) might cover two weeks. If it’s going to take all summer to read one book, that book might be a little above the level you want to tackle for this particular challenge.

Getting the audiobook version of these longer books and encouraging kids to listen over the course of a week is a great alternative. We want kids to be able to read books that they want to read. If kids are putting time in reading and it is still taking longer than two weeks, help them adjust their book choice.

Younger kids who are not yet reading chapter books might choose a book a day. For example, my eight-year-old is enjoying simple chapter books right now, but can read one in just a few days, so she is trying for two books a week.

4 | Display and track your goals.

This might be a simple paper chart, a sticker chart, or using a site like Goodreads to make a group and track your reading. A visible reminder of goals is essential so you can track progress and regroup. And you may have to regroup.

Again, your kids might need to adjust the length or level of books they’re choosing, or they might find they reader faster or slower than they thought. Make the challenge one that each kid can attain, even if you have to change up the goal part of the way through.

5 | Talk about what you’re reading. 

Reading is a great social activity. Those of us who love to read know the power of finding someone else that has read a book that we love. It’s so fun to be able to share what we thought about the book. Just like if we run into someone who knows a friend of ours. Books can be our friends and we should talk about them! Ask your kids things like:

  • What is happening so far?
  • Who are the characters?
  • Do you have a favorite part?
  • Does the book make sense?
  • Are there any funny parts?

Chat about your books in the car, after they read, around the dinner table, whenever you can. This doesn’t have to be formal, but it will help you help your kids find books they like and will keep everyone engaged. A family read aloud is also an awesome way to get more reading in and will help you bond over books. For more ideas about reading aloud to your kids, check out this post.

6 | Make reading its own reward. 

In my experience, when kids read for a prize and the prize is attained, they stop reading unless there is another prize. They have learned to read for the prize instead of reading for the joy. Alfie Kohn has written extensively about this in the field of education. I’ve seen it in action and believe so much in what he says about rewards: “Rewards don’t bring about the changes we are hoping for, but the point here is also that something else is going on: the more rewards are used, the more they seem to be needed. Pretty soon, the provision of rewards becomes habitual because there seems to be no way to do without them.”

This is so true with kids and reading. My goal is for them to love it so they will continue to read because of that love, not because they’re getting something or because they want to please me. Our fun will come from talking about our books and from finding things we love. If all goes well, I’ll surprise them at the end with a coffee at Barnes and Noble and we’ll all buy ourselves the first book of the school year. This will be a celebration, not something they’ve earned or worked for. Just a time to chat about how much fun we had with our books (fingers crossed).

That’s it. Make goals, make a plan to reach them, and track your progress. If you have trouble fitting reading into your summer craziness, dedicate a half hour or two 15-minute periods a day to read. Make sure kids bring books with them to practices, the pool, wherever you are headed. In my family, if we all just read in the car they will read hours everyday, no joke!

We are just off and running with the challenge here and hopefully we’ll read more this summer than ever before. I believe that just trying to be more intentional by keeping reading on the radar will make us more successful in the end. Would you like to join us? Leave a comment letting us know you’re in!

Some things to help get you started: