The sun is out and school is a distant memory—and your child hasn't cracked a book in weeks. Motivating reluctant readers during the carefree days of summer is a challenge—but it's possible if you tweak your thinking about reading reinforcement during the leisure months.
Parents are naturally wary of letting kids loose during summer for fear that bad habits will form and hard-won reading skills will be lost. A 2007 study, "To Read or Not to Read" by the National Endowment for the Arts, paints a dismal picture of declining literacy habits among young people in America. According to the report, young people were reading books at significantly lower rates than previous generations. Should you be alarmed by this statistic and start structuring reading time for your child when school's out?
Take a deep breath and check out some recent research. A study on video games and reading from the University of Wisconsin found that reading can be a major component of video game playing. The report, "Video-Game Literacy," found that games could improve literacy, despite conventional wisdom that says tech time should be limited to encourage more reading. Building on this idea, many children's publishers are creating video games, movies and other leisure time tie-ins to popular books to encourage reading, not distract from it.
It's really OK to use the games and activities that interest your child to stimulate reading during school downtime. Get creative and try these simple steps to integrate reading into everyday play.
- Indoors and out. During the summer, your active child might not want to settle down indoors and read—so don't. Plan fun outdoor activities for family and friends and add reading to the mix. Take the kids out for a seaside exploration day or a camping trip, and bring a book to reinforce the experience. If you're camping or hiking, take the Pocket Guide to the Outdoors (For Kids) by Jean George or Survivor Kid: A Practical Guide to Wilderness Survival by Denise Long. Need a good beach book? Try out Sea Babies: New Life in the Ocean by Jean H. Sibbald.
- It's on TV ... or, it's a movie. Pair good reads with other types of media to spark interest. What's your child's favorite movie character or TV show? You can bet there's a book tie-in. Almost every blockbuster film or TV series out there has a book, or several, to go with it. Spider-Man? Check! Batman, Star Wars, Iron Man—all are both books and movies. For younger kids, Harry Potter is classic—watch the movies, then read the books. Teens who are reluctant readers can watch the Twilight series, and then move on to the books.
- It's all about me! There's nothing as interesting to children as themselves. There are loads of tech tools that let your kid create, illustrate and even record his own voice to create a story about his life—or about any other topic they choose. Try the StoryBuilder app for iPad, a creative tool that asks questions and creates a customized story from the answers. And the website We Make Stories lets kids create comics, picture books and more. When your child is in charge of the story, reading will always capture his attention!
- It's disgusting and we ate it! "Oh, really? I want to read about that!" For the tiniest tots, tap into the natural attraction for the weird, the strange and the gross. Try the classic Roald Dahl's Revolting Recipes to get your little reader interested. For younger children, there's Snotty Crocky by Gary Lucas. Non-fiction can hook older readers also. Check out Grossology by Sylvia Branzei and Jack Keely—icky but educational.
- It's all a game. Pair video games with books to put your tech kid on the path to reading success. Many of the most popular books for kids have game counterparts. The same research that says gaming encourages reading found that complex video games motivate kids to read instructions, narratives and storylines, thus boosting literacy skills.
- Everybody's doing it. If you're an avid reader, chances are that your child will pick up the habit. Just to make sure, set aside a night or two a week for family reading night. Read books aloud together. Regularly let your child choose the book that "everyone" will read that night—and if you have to sit through Ivy and Bean or Magic Tree House for the 25th time, then so be it.
When you relax and integrate reading into everyday activities, your child's skill level will improve without anxiety. Don't ever say, "Stop the fun stuff. It's time to read!" Reading is the fun stuff!